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What We Do

A Roof Over their Heads

One of the first things that people need after being forced to flee their homes, whether they be refugees or internally displaced, is some kind of a roof over their head. Providing shelter is a priority for us and the UNHCR logo emblazoned across the side of tents is a recurring image of our role at the centre of many of the world's humanitarian emergencies.

The job of our Supply Management Service, based in Budapest, is to ensure that stockpiles of tents are available when the need suddenly appears. The goal is to store tents for 250,000 people - 50,000 tents - at three centres UNHCR has established in Dubai, Copenhagen and Durban, South Africa.

UNHCR uses two types of tents, depending on needs. One is a lightweight emergency tent that is compact and can be made more quickly than the canvas model. However, its shelf life is less than the canvas tents that UNHCR has manufactured in India and Pakistan.

The agency's responsibilities have grown, especially with the inter-agency global cluster system for IDP (internally displaced people) field operations. UNHCR shares leadership of the emergency shelter cluster with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

The refugee agency leads in conflict-generated displacement, while the IFRC leads in natural disaster situations. In this role, UNHCR is also responsible for training personnel, stockpiling shelter and related non-food items and developing emergency shelter strategies, tools and guidelines.

Emergency shelter is not just tents. It also includes distribution of materials such as plastic sheeting and matting - which can be used to make a simple shelter - as well as other non-food items.

And UNHCR does not restrict its shelter assistance to emergency situations. In more protracted situations, the refugee agency funds rehabilitation of communal shelters or construction of new homes. In some cases, UNHCR provides the uprooted with the materials to build homes themselves under self-help schemes.




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

Pakistan: Swat Valley EmergencyPlay video

Pakistan: Swat Valley Emergency

UNHCR has launched an empergency operation to help some 2 million Pakistanis displaced in north-west Swat Valley

UNHCR Tents Reaching Earthquake Survivors in China

The UN refugee agency has provided 11,000 urgently needed tents to China to help with emergency shelter for some of the 5 million people left homeless after the devastating earthquake that struck Sichuan province on May 12, 2008.

The tents, which were manufactured in China for UNHCR, have been transported to the quake zone. The first 2,000 tents were airlifted to the zone and arrived in Chengdu on May 25 and the remaining 9,000 arrived not long after. These tents can provide shelter for 55,000 people. They have been distributed in the cities of Aba, Deyang and Guangyuan, close to the epicentre of the quake.

Posted on 4 June 2008

UNHCR Tents Reaching Earthquake Survivors in China

UNHCR donates tents for China's earthquake victimsPlay video

UNHCR donates tents for China's earthquake victims

The May 12 earthquake in China's Sichuan province caused widespread destruction and death. UNHCR is responding by donating thousands of tents to help give displaced families some shelter while they rebuild their homes.