World Humanitarian Day: People helping people

News Stories, 19 August 2011

GENEVA, August 19 (UNHCR) UNHCR staff were celebrating the third annual World Humanitarian Day on Friday at the end of an extremely challenging year for aid workers around the globe.

"Crises in the Horn of Africa, West Africa, the Middle East and North Africa have tested the capacities of UNHCR and other UN organizations. It's against the backdrop of these recent crises, and all the other ongoing humanitarian situations which do not make headlines but still require our full attention, that we will mark World Humanitarian Day," Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees T. Alexander Aleinikoff said in a message to staff.

"This date also marks UNHCR's staff memorial day. With humanitarian workers around the world increasingly seen as targets in conflicts, this day gives us the opportunity to pay tribute to all of our colleagues in humanitarian organizations who have died while courageously trying to help the world's most vulnerable people and to honour our colleagues on the frontlines of today's humanitarian crises," he added.

The purpose of humanitarian work is to help the neediest people overcome life-threatening circumstances in order to survive- a mission to which tens of thousands of people devote themselves every day. World Humanitarian Day gives them a chance to honour their own.

© UNHCR/P.Moore
Humanitarian in Action: A UNHCR staff member talks to Saloman, a 17 year-old Eritrean, who had fled violence in Libya.

World Humanitarian Day was inaugurated in 2009 on the sixth anniversary of the Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, which left 22 people dead, 18 of them from the United Nations, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, who started his humanitarian career at UNHCR and rose to become Assistant High Commissioner before moving to more senior UN positions.

Humanitarian work is a risky business. Last year, 242 aid workers were killed, kidnapped or injured in the line of duty, one of the worst year's ever for the aid community. In 2000, by contrast, there were 91 victims of violence. At least 780 aid workers have been killed in the past decade.

At UNHCR there are countless stories of sacrifice and inspiration among staff members. Juliette Murekeyisoni, who grew up as a refugee in Burundi, returned to her native Rwanda in 1994 to help women and children caught up in the genocidal violence that year. She tells her story here as part of a UNHCR video initiative based on individual storytelling:

This year's World Humanitarian Day commemorations include a new website established by the UN's Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The site includes stories about and by humanitarian workers and provides ways for viewers to spread the word about the day, learn more and volunteer their time.

In addition, a music video has been produced specifically for World Humanitarian Day. The Somali-born singing duet Sweet Rush appears on behalf of UNHCR. Elsewhere, staff at UNHCR and other agencies will be holding walks, talks and other gatherings to commemorate the day.

For the special OCHA site, go to:





In their own voices. Refugees, asylum-seekers and the stateless tell their stories. Visit UNHCR's Storytelling on YouTube.

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Pakistan: Fleeing to Safety

More than 1.5 million people flee their homes in North-West Pakistan.

Fighting between the army and Taliban militants in and around the Swat Valley in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province has displaced more than 1.5 million people since the beginning of May. Some of the displaced are being sheltered in camps set up by the government and supplied by UNHCR. Others - the majority, in fact - are staying in public buildings, such as schools, or with friends and extended family members. Living conditions are harsh. With the onset of summer, rising temperatures are contributing to a range of ailments, especially for villagers from Swat accustomed to a cooler climate. Pakistan's displacement crisis has triggered an outpouring of generosity at home. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is urging a "massive" assistance effort from abroad as well.

Pakistan: Fleeing to Safety

An Infant's Journey to Safety

Three days after giving birth to her fourth child, a girl she named Hawler, Peroz concluded that the situation in her hometown of Hassake, Syria, was too dangerous for her children. She decided to make the difficult journey to northern Iraq. Along the way, she and Hawler were sick. "I was terrified the baby might die," said Peroz, 27.

Although the border was closed, guards felt compassion for the newborn child and let Peroz's family enter. A few days later Peroz and her children were reunited with their father and now they are living with hundreds of other refugees in a small park on the outskirts of Erbil.

Battling mosquitoes and soaring daytime temperatures, and with little more than blankets for comfort and a breakfast of bread and cheese for nourishment, Peroz and her husband hope to be transferred to a new tented settlement.

Over the past few weeks, tens of thousands of Syrians have flooded into northern Iraq, fleeing violence. With existing camps at full capacity, many refugee families are finding shelter anywhere they can. The local government has started transferring people from Qushtapa Park to a nearby camp. UNHCR is registering the refugees, as well as providing tents and life-saving assistance.

An Infant's Journey to Safety

Malian refugees flee for safety to Niger

Thousands of Malian families have arrived in Niger since mid-January, fleeing fighting between a rebel Tuareg movement and Malian government forces in northern Mali. Refugees are living in makeshift settlements along the border, exposed to the sun and wind by day, and cold at night. UNHCR has started distributing relief assistance and is planning to open camps in safer areas further away from the border. UNHCR's Helene Caux met with some the refugees who all expressed their desire to return to their country once peace prevails.

Malian refugees flee for safety to Niger

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Thousands of refugees have fled militant attacks in Nigeria and sought safety in Chad. They include at least 100 children who have been provided shelter by other families.
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