Australia for UNHCR CEO, Trudi Mitchell and Board Chair, Professor Peter Shergold recently returned from a field trip to Kenya and Uganda – two countries that host large numbers of refugees. They share some of their insights from the trip.
Trudi: Whenever I visit UNHCR’s field operations, I meet remarkable refugee women who take on leadership roles in the most difficult of circumstances. This time I had the privilege of spending time with Aisha who came to Kenya as a 16-year-old refugee from Ethiopia. She is a community leader and single mother of three children living in the Kalobeyei refugee settlement, in north-west Kenya.
Aisha has achieved a number of important things as a community leader. She’s helped bring a few small shops to her neighbourhood and she’s also worked to have wooden fences erected around refugees’ homes allowing them some privacy. Aisha also acts as an informal mediator in the community, helping people to resolve disputes.
Despite having the support of many people in her community, Aisha says there are those who don’t like a woman in a leadership role. I have so much respect for Aisha who is able to persevere and find solutions in such a challenging environment.
Peter: In Uganda, I met a 76-year-old woman called Evasita. Last year she fled her home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after an armed gang killed her adult children. Evasita managed to escape with her two grandchildren, aged 8 and 16. They are now living in a tent in a Ugandan refugee settlement called Rwamwanja. Evasita rises early to get her grandchildren to school and then tends a tiny plot of land in the afternoon in return for a dollar or two, her only source of income.
Evasita has nowhere to go and no other options. I imagine she must be wondering how long she can continue working; how long can she take care of her grandchildren. If the UN Refugee Agency hadn’t provided her with a tent and other life-saving aid, she would have nothing.
Trudi: There are currently more than 110 million people displaced around the world – the largest number in history. Trying to meet the needs of so many people is extremely challenging. This number is a result of the increased number of conflicts and protracted complex situations around the world. Until there is a political solution to these situations, UNHCR’s lifesaving work continues to make a huge difference. In Kenya and Uganda, the World Food Programme has had to cut food rations by as much as 40 per cent. This makes life even more difficult for refugees.
The Horn of Africa is also in the midst of a terrible drought – the worst in more than 40 years. In Kenya, many people talked about the impact of the drought, which is also taking a huge toll in Somalia and Ethiopia.
Peter: Visiting UNHCR’s work in Kenya and Uganda gave me fresh insights into how important the charity dollar has become in dealing with displacement. Governments, of course, make their contributions to UNHCR, and we must continue to try and convince them to keep giving more. But we can't simply rely on governments. Around the world, we all need to contribute more, particularly those of us living in wealthy countries. Businesses, philanthropists, individuals – everybody can and should have the opportunity to help.
The Global Refugee Forum, to be held in Geneva in December, will be a chance for governments, civil society and the private sector to build on the pledges and contributions they made at the first Forum in 2019. This is all about responsibility-sharing – recognising that a sustainable solution to refugee situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation.
Trudi: Australia for UNHCR donors have given generously to programs in Kenya and Uganda over many years. Their support makes a tremendous difference. We’ve been able to provide significant funding to support refugees affected by the ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa. Australian donors have also supported protection, education and livelihood programs in Uganda. Last year, a donor left a large gift in his Will to support students in Bidibidi, a refugee settlement in northwest Uganda.
Peter: Visiting the field helped me appreciate what a difference our donors make and it reinforced just how important UNHCR’s lifesaving work is.
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