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Latest UNHCR emergency training aimed at senior managers

News Stories, 17 March 2010

© UNHCR/S.Imberton
Two UNHCR staff members, well padded against the cold, take part in the emergency training in Sweden.

REVINGE, Sweden, March 17 (UNHCR) Aid workers scrambled to meet the needs of thousands of people fleeing fighting between government troops and separatist rebels in the countryside near southern Sweden's main university campus in Lund.

Operating from a sprawling base camp atop a frozen hill on the outskirts of Revinge, 24 long-time aid workers arrived from across the globe earlier this month to address humanitarian needs facing the host community and the uprooted civilians. The humanitarian crisis was actually part of a Workshop for Emergency Management organized by UNHCR and hosted at the Rescue Services College in Revinge.

The mock crisis was loosely based on the situation in northern Yemen, where a temporary ceasefire between Yemen's forces and local Houthi tribes is allowing aid agencies like UNHCR to expand operations. Fighting that erupted there in 2005 has displaced more than 250,000 people, more than half of them since mid-2009.

The exercise was the first emergency training specifically for senior managers, mostly UNHCR staff but also personnel from key partners including the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the International Humanitarian City (Dubai) and personnel from two Scandinavian UNHCR standby partners, the Danish Refugee Council and the Norwegian Refugee Council, as well as the US government Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration.

The participants converged from current operations in places such as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia to hone their skills to ensure staff are poised to respond to displacement crises in a matter of hours.

"UNHCR conducts these training seminars three times yearly to ensure our staff may refresh their skills," said Iain Hall, chief of UNHCR's Emergency Preparedness and Response Section. "The government of Sweden has long been an enthusiastic supporter of this effort, and together with Norway, Germany and other states helps ensure that we have a variety of staff able to meet urgent needs in humanitarian crisis situations, be they man-made [conflict] or caused by natural disaster."

Participants agree to be deployed anywhere in the world within 72 hours for up to four months, and they remain on this emergency roster for two years. Preparation for the course and eventual deployment as part of one of UNHCR's Emergency Response Teams means getting their current offices to agree that they serve on the roster, as well as the understanding of their families.

"This exceptional training effort is about ensuring that we have highly skilled senior managers who also undergo this special course to address the needs of displaced persons and the humanitarian community's cluster," Hall said.

Participants were enthusiastic, despite sub-zero nights in tents and tense days facing those playing angry officials and traumatized displaced people. "It is very good, and I'm impressed with all the people here," said Odd Einar Olsen of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Monica Sandri currently works with the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development in Kabul as an emergency and social protection adviser and in the past served with the Norwegian Refugee Council. She took part in the UNHCR course as a member of the Danish Refugee Council emergency stand-by roster.

"This course is giving me more knowledge in how to manage an emergency and, more importantly, how to manage relations in a crisis," Sandri said. "I have always worked with refugees and internally displaced persons, so for me this senior level training is more focussed on management and how to address emergencies."

By Peter Kessler in Revinge,Sweden

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Mahmoud's Journey: A Young Syrian Survives Being Shot At, Detained and Bullied to Find a New Life in Sweden

A photo essay by Shawn Baldwin and Johan Bävman

A photograph of Syrian refugee, Mahmoud, shows the nine-year-old looking wistfully out of the window of an apartment block in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. Perhaps he is thinking of happier days at school in his home town of Aleppo or maybe he is wondering what life will be like when he and his family are resettled in Sweden. When the image was taken late last year, Mahmoud had not been able to attend school for two years. His family had fled Syria in October 2012. Like 300,000 other Syrians, they sought shelter in Egypt, where life was tough - and became tougher in 2013, when public opinion began to turn against the Syrians as Egypt struggled with its own problems. Mahmoud became the target of bullies, even at one point being physically attacked. Afterwards, he refused to leave the rented family apartment in 6th of October City, a drab, sand-swept satellite suburb of Cairo.

Mahmoud's father tried to send him to Italy on a smuggler's boat, but the vessel was fired on and the traumatized boy ended up spending five days in a local detention centre. Once back home, he fell target to the bullying once more. But his case came to the attention of UNHCR and the refugee agency recommended Mahmoud and his family for resettlement. In January 2014, Mahmoud and his family flew to Sweden to begin a new life in the small town of Torsby, where he runs and plays outside without fear - he even had his first snowball fight. And now he is back at school.

Mahmoud's Journey: A Young Syrian Survives Being Shot At, Detained and Bullied to Find a New Life in Sweden

Sweden: Mahmoud's EscapePlay video

Sweden: Mahmoud's Escape

Mahmoud was one of more than 300,000 Syrian refugees who have sought safety in Egypt since the conflict in his homeland began three years ago. The nine-year-old was so desperate to attend school that he risked his life to get to Europe. He was stopped and sent back to Egypt but is now making a fresh start in Sweden.