Putting Our Work into Focus
A picture tells a thousand words - and UNHCR has more than 250,000 of them dating back decades. The agency's photo library in Geneva is guardian of the world's largest collection of refugee-related photos covering nearly all of the major displacements of the last 60 years. These images provide a comprehensive portrait of the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people and the stateless in all corners of the globe, as well as the work of the thousands of UN staff who have helped them. Many of our best photos are showcased on this website and on the social networking site, Flickr. We offer the use of our photos free to the media.
Panama's Hidden Refugees
Colombia's armed conflict has forced millions of people to flee their homes, including hundreds of thousands who have sought refuge in other countries in the region.
Along the border with Colombia, Panama's Darien region is a thick and inhospitable jungle accessible only by boat. Yet many Colombians have taken refuge here after fleeing the irregular armed groups who control large parts of jungle territory on the other side of the border.
Many of the families sheltering in the Darien are from Colombia's ethnic minorities – indigenous or Afro-Colombians – who have been particularly badly hit by the conflict and forcibly displaced in large numbers. In recent years, there has also been an increase in the numbers of Colombians arriving in the capital, Panama City.
There are an estimated 12,500 Colombians of concern to UNHCR in Panama, but many prefer not to make themselves known to authorities and remain in hiding. This "hidden population" is one of the biggest challenges facing UNHCR not only in Panama but also in Ecuador and Venezuela.
2006 Nansen Refugee Award
All photos courtesy of Fuji Optical Co. Ltd.
The UN refugee agency has named Japanese optometrist Dr. Akio Kanai as the winner of the 2006 Nansen Refugee Award. Dr. Kanai has worked for more than two decades to improve the quality of life of over 100,000 uprooted people around the world by testing their eyes and providing them with spectacles.
Dr. Kanai, himself forcibly displaced from the northern Pacific island of Sakhalin at the end of World War Two, started his humanitarian work in 1983 in Thailand with Indochinese refugees. In 1984, he first worked with UNHCR and has conducted more than 24 missions to help uprooted people in Nepal, Thailand, Azerbaijan and Armenia. He has donated optometry equipment and more than 108,200 pairs of spectacles, made cash grants and trained local medical staff.
Dr Kanai, who is the chairman and chief executive officer of Fuji Optical, has also rallied his family and staff to participate in Fuji Optical's Vision Aid missions. Some 70 employees have taken part, working in refugee camps during their holidays.
Gulf of Aden People-Smuggling: International Help Needed
An alarming number of people are dying trying to reach Yemen aboard smugglers' boats crossing the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. Over a three-week period in late 2005, at least 150 people perished while making the journey. These deaths are frequently the result of overcrowded boats capsizing or breaking down and going adrift without food or water. Those who survive the voyage to Yemen often give brutal accounts of smugglers beating passengers or forcing them overboard while still far off shore – in some instances with their hands and feet bound.
In response, UNHCR has issued an urgent appeal for action to stem the flow of desperate Ethiopian and Somali refugees and migrants falling prey to ruthless smugglers in a bid to reach Yemen and beyond. The refugee agency has also been working with the authorities in Puntland, in north-eastern Somalia, on ways to inform people about the dangers of using smugglers to cross the Gulf of Aden. This includes production of videos and radio programmes to raise awareness among Somalis and Ethiopians of the risks involved in such crossings.
Pakistan Earthquake: Braving the Winter Cold
December 2005 – January 2006
Winter in northern Pakistan has not been as harsh as many feared, but earthquake survivors are still experiencing dangerously low temperatures, along with snow, heavy rain and landslides.
To help people survive the tough conditions, UNHCR has distributed blankets, plastic sheeting, tents and stoves. Vulnerable children in Danna village, north of Muzaffarabad city, have received warm clothing. In camps in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), communal, heated tents have been set up, while in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, where there is not enough space for communal tents, stoves are being distributed to individual families. UNHCR staff are training camp residents on the safe use of stoves and reducing fire hazards. Finally, UNHCR partners are registering people displaced by earthquake, gathering information vital for both the provision of aid to survivors now and the reconstruction that will come later.
UNHCR is responsible for supporting the Pakistan authorities in some 160 relief camps housing nearly 140,000 people left homeless by the October 8th quake.
One Year On: Rebuilding Aceh
In the aftermath of the devastating 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, UNHCR mounted a massive relief operation for some 100,000 survivors on the severely battered west coast of Indonesia's Aceh province.
After the initial three-month emergency relief phase was over, UNHCR withdrew from Aceh. However, in June 2005, after the Indonesian government had assessed the needs for the reconstruction and rehabilitation phase, UNHCR returned to assist in rebuilding the west coast communities. All the survivors' main infrastructural needs – such as schools, community centres, places of worship and family homes – have been included in the holistic reconstruction effort, and efforts have been made to ensure they are all designed to suit the Acehnese way of life. Rebuilding is already underway in the villages of Kreung Sabee and in Calang.
UNHCR has also been helping the recovery effort on Nias Island, off the coast of Sumatra, which was struck by an 8.7 magnitude earthquake on 28 March.