On Tuesday this week, the United Nations Refugee agency (UNHCR) has been celebrating its 60th anniversary in offices around the world. Founded on December 14 1950, the original aim of the organisation was to address the refugee situation caused by World War II. Since then, its work has expanded with major displacements of people across the globe. Today the organisation has a duty of care to 43 million refugees, internally displaced people and asylum seekers worldwide. Head of the agency, António Guterres, speaking at the headquarters in Geneva, warned that multiple factors continue to cause displacement and statelessness, including conflicts, persecution, poverty and climate change. Mr Guterres appealed to the international community for fresh commitment to tackle these challenges.
As examples of current challenges, Mr Guterres highlighted the huge numbers being displaced in Somalia and Afghanistan. In the latter country, the UNHCR has just housed the 200,000th returnee family under its shelter programme there, as Afghans return home from Iran and Pakistan. The agency is also celebrating its birthday with a milestone in Nepal. Here, its three-year long programme to resettle refugees from camps in the east of the country has just passed the 40,000 mark.
The 40,000th refugee to be resettled is Devi Maya Gurung, who fled Bhutan along with over 100,000 other refugees after violence erupted among the ethnic Nepali community in the south. Under a programme launched in 2007, the UNHCR set up seven camps for the refugees in the Jhapa and Morang districts of eastern Nepal. Since then, the agency has been interviewing people on a steady basis and finding appropriate resettlement places. New homes have been organized in eight host countries, though most of the refugees (over 34,000) have gone to the United States. This is where Devi will be starting a new life with her family and she flew out of Kathmandu’s international airport the day before the UNHCR’s 60th anniversary. Father of two, Dhan Kumar Ghataney, also left on Monday with his family, optimistic that he would “find employment and my children will get a better education”. Of the 72,000 people remaining in the Nepal camps, around 55,000 have expressed a desire to resettle abroad and it is planned these will be found places over the next four years.
At the UNHCR’s birthday celebrations in Geneva, one of the guests of honour was Mads Madsen, who has been with the agency since 2004. Mr Madsen is a former Danish soldier who is also 60 years old today and has been working in Nepal since January 2007. Based in the eastern town of Damak, Mr Madsen plans to stay in Nepal until he retires in two years. When asked about his work for the UNHCR, Mr Madsen says his time with the agency has been “a marvellous experience” and in his current posting he feels privileged to see the results of his work and watch refugees from Bhutan leave the camps after almost 20 years to start afresh. When asked about his own plans for a new life when he retires, Mr Madsen says he is looking forward to spending time with his own family and being “part of their day-to-day life again”. As a grandfather, he anticipates starting “a new chapter” just as he has helped so many other families to do.