Australia for UNHCR’s National Director, Naomi Steer, reflects on both global trends and the power that all of us have as individuals to help refugees.

It was an unusual start to an email. “Are you the tall blond woman who came to our settlement in Uganda?”

I was indeed that woman. The email was one of many I receive from refugees, asking for help or thanking Australians for their support. The author – a young man named ‘Mozzie’ – explained that Australia for UNHCR had funded the secondary school in his refugee settlement. His family had later been accepted for resettlement in the US and this education enabled him to progress to engineering at university.

In these moments it’s clear that no matter how daunting the number of displaced people seems, we are making a real and lasting difference to every individual we reach. .

Yesterday, UNHCR published its 2016 Global Trends Report, the UN’s official annual assessment of global displacement. Once again the report makes for grim reading, with 65.6 million people displaced globally.

Syria has entered its seventh year of conflict, with more than 11 million people now displaced. That’s two-thirds of the population. South Sudan has become Africa’s biggest refugee emergency, with 3.3 million people now fleeing. One million of these are children, with many fleeing alone after losing their parents.

These are critical times that require new ways of thinking about displacement.

Australia for UNHCR National Director, Naomi Steer, in Kule Refugee Camp in Ethiopia

Late last year, 193 countries convened at the first ever UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants to address the crisis, resulting in the New York Declaration. World leaders speaking in one voice set in motion the development of a more sustainable response to mass displacement, called the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, or CRRF.

It is consistently the poorest countries, like Uganda, that host the greatest number of refugees, often for many years. Uganda has become a progressive model for developing more sustainable solutions. On arrival, refugees are given plots of land to farm and live on. They are free to come and go, seek employment and contribute fully to Ugandan society.

As a result, Uganda has now been selected as a pilot country for the new CRRF that UNHCR is trialling and developing.

I’m very proud that Australia for UNHCR is directly involved in this initiative by funding the first vocational training centre in Kyaka II refugee settlement. This project has been selected as a pilot for Uganda’s CRRF program. The centre will enable young refugees to learn new skills, become self-sufficient and set up their own businesses. Courses will include carpentry, agronomy and electronics. The centre will also be open to enrolment from the local community.

The urgent need for this centre was reinforced during my recent visit to Kyaka II. I met young refugees there who are hugely excited about the project. They include Vincent, who was forced to flee his family’s farm in South Sudan and dreams of returning with agricultural skills to rebuild his country. And Grace, a young motherless teenager now responsible for supporting her younger brothers and sisters, whose eyes light up with the possibility of training as a hairdresser and opening up her own ‘salon.’

There are many ways you can support these young people and other refugees who need our help.

  • Become a regular donor. The contributions of individuals have become critical for UNHCR emergency responses. Regular donations provide sustainable income to UNHCR, enabling it to plan ahead and deploy support where it’s needed most.
  • Make your voice heard, stand #WithRefugees and sign the petition. UNHCR’s global petition demands that governments act with solidarity and shared responsibility to protect the rights of those fleeing conflict, including the right to have a safe place to live and receive an education. The petition will be presented at next year’s UN General Assembly.
  • Mobilise your community, contacts and networks. Join supporters across Australia who are signing up to fun runs, holding bake sales or inspiring their communities to raise funds and awareness to support refugees.


As we mark World Refugee Day today, I am very grateful for your support and look forward to joining with you, other supporters and refugees around the world to meet the challenge of addressing one of greatest humanitarian issues of our time.

Share this:

facebook twitter

You can help

Make a donation

Every donation makes a real and lasting difference in the lives of refugees.

Organise a fundraiser

Host a bake sale, climb a mountain or do a fun run to raise funds for vital aid.