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Posted by Kristin Haworth / April 19, 2011Kristin Haworth serves as Public Affairs Officer in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration
In 2007, children under the age of five who were living in refugee camps in Kenya had a one in four chance of getting malaria, which can be deadly without treatment. Through distribution of insecticide treated nets, improved treatment, and community education the figure has now been reduced to less than one in fifty. Similar progress has been made in reducing the incidence of malaria in other refugee settings throughout the world, saving many young lives. It’s just one example of many life-saving programs implemented by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which receives significant support from the United States.
The U.S. government, through the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, is pleased to highlight our recent $126.8 million contribution to UNHCR. With this contribution, the United States will have provided more than $285 million toward UNHCR’s 2011 operations so far this year.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the legal foundation for UNHCR’s work. A lot has changed since 1951, but the core principles the convention established — the rights of refugees and the obligation of states to protect these rights — have remained the same. The assistance UNHCR provides, and the number of people it helps, however, has grown tremendously over the decades since the organization was established. The malaria eradication project described above is just one example of how refugee assistance has changed and grown over the years.
UNHCR assistance has expanded in part because the nature of the crises that cause displacement has changed since 1951. Over the last sixty years, UNHCR has gone from providing emergency relief to European refugees who were displaced by World War II, to supporting refugees and uprooted people in both short and long-term refugee situations, such as Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, Somali refugees in Kenya, and Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
Increasingly, modern-day conflicts pit domestic ethnic groups, clans, religions, or ideologies against one another, with combatants and civilians dangerously intermingled. Internal displacements — or situations where people have fled their communities but have not crossed an international border — have increased as well. Adding another layer of complexity, many refugees and displaced people have fled to urban areas in recent years rather than established camps, which brings its own set of challenges in delivering assistance.
Providing assistance to large groups of people is an enormous challenge, but when you consider the needs of individual refugees and their families, the responsibility is daunting. Many refugees and displaced people have faced considerable personal trauma — they’ve been uprooted from their lives and homes, sometimes exposed to horrific violence or sexual assault, or have lost family members — and they may be in uprooted situations for years. Some refugees may be stateless — meaning they don’t have documentation as a citizen to any country and live in legal limbo. UNHCR programs support a wide range of registration, health care, psycho-social welfare, education, nutrition, and livelihood assistance for refugees and displaced people in many kinds of difficult situations.
In addition to providing assistance to people in complex and often dangerous operating environments, UNHCR works to find long-term, sustainable solutions for refugees by helping those who voluntarily wish to return to their home country to do so if the situation allows, and if not, to integrate into their host country’s society, or resettle in a third country (the United States resettles more refugees than all other resettlement countries combined, including around 73,000 refugees who found new homes in America in 2010).
The U.S. government is proud to support these programs on behalf of the American people. As UNHCR’s largest donor, we work closely with the organization to monitor and evaluate regularly the programs that U.S. funds help to support.
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