In an interview to discuss the strategic partnerships and close cooperation with the GCC countries, Khaled Khalifah, the Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to the States of the Gulf Cooperation highlights on the impact of establishing projects and coordinating basic humanitarian efforts with governmental and humanitarian agencies in the GCC that are changing lives of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons.
What are the current challenges that refugees, UNHCR, and asylum seekers are facing in general?
Humanitarian organizations, including UNHCR, face great challenges in terms of funding with the increase in the number of people needing assistance, knowing that there are more than 80 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes and are in need of aid in all its forms, such as shelter, food, education, health services, and others.
What makes it even more difficult is that most refugees live in developing countries already facing difficult economic and social challenges; Some of them are countries affected by food insecurity while others have weak health systems or other problems. Therefore, these countries need the continuous support and solidarity of the international community to face these multiplying crises.
Another problem related to the increasing challenges on asylum and forced displacement issues around the world, is that many crises of long-term duration do not find their way to a solution. In fact, 77 per cent of the refugees have been stuck in displacement situations for years and sometimes decades, which makes the need to aid them continuous, especially as their needs evolve over time.
- What kind of support does UNHCR receive from governments, especially in the GCC?
UNHCR depends almost entirely on voluntary contributions from governments and intergovernmental institutions, as well as the private sector. These contributions allow us to use the funds in various fields and provide necessities to millions of refugees and displaced people around the world.
Furthermore, UNHCR works in full coordination between governments and other United Nations organizations and various bodies, and logistical support must be available from governments to facilitate our work. Often, government agencies are the primary partner in developing refugee response plans and coordinating joint efforts to ensure the coherence and integrity of the humanitarian response to large-scale or complex refugee situations.
In the GCC countries, UNHCR implements strategic partnerships and close cooperation with government and humanitarian agencies, enabling us to help refugees and displaced persons in many places around the world. These partnerships support UNHCR’s efforts in establishing projects and coordinating basic humanitarian efforts such as shelter, food, and health services, as well as development, such as education, infrastructure, and livelihoods.
- What role does UNHCR play in terms of partnerships with other international and local institutions?
UNHCR leads international action efforts to protect people who have been forced to flee their homes due to conflicts, wars and persecution, and works with all international institutions such as other United Nations organizations to provide services in various sectors, for example coordinating efforts with the World Food Programme to provide food and water to refugees, with UNICEF regarding refugee children education, and other international organizations.
With regard to partnerships with local institutions, for example, UNHCR works in full cooperation and joint coordination with many institutions in the GCC countries, including: King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSA), The Big Heart Foundation (UAE), Qatar Charity, Thani Bin Abdullah Bin Thani Al-Thani Humanitarian Fund (Qatar), Tanmeia Foundation, Sheikh Abdullah Al Nouri Charity Society, Zakat House, and Patients Helping Fund
Society (Kuwait). These institutions have contributed significantly to financing joint projects aimed at supporting Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons, IDPs in Iraq, Rohingya refugees, IDPs in Yemen and others.
In addition, UNHCR benefits from the support of many private sector partners, philanthropists and individuals in the Arab Gulf region.
- The Refugee Zakat Fund has made great achievements in recent years, how do you envision developing this fund?
We are looking to benefit more from technology in helping donors and making it easier for them to donate. We have launched a special application that can be downloaded on mobile phones for Android, iOS, or Huawei users called GiveZakat. Through this application, the donor can calculate the amount of Zakat funds that should be contributed and allows the donor to determine the country in which he wishes to distribute his Zakat. The application also allows the donor to track the progress of the donation process and how these funds reaches its beneficiaries, issue impact reports, etc.
- Where do the funds donated to UNHCR go?
Funds received by UNHCR help provide protection, shelter, and other forms of assistance. We implement high standards of transparency in preparing reports and setting budgets in detail for all our programs based on a field evaluation conducted by our teams. UNHCR staff work closely directly with refugees and displaced persons, as 90 per cent of our workforce is on field. For more details on the UNHCR budget, we have comprehensive annual reports available to all.
Can individuals make in-kind donations through UNHCR? What are the available donation methods, how easy is it to provide them, and how can their impact be monitored by donors?
Every support, of any kind is appreciated, but the logistics of collecting in-kind donations from many different locations and sending them to refugee camps is not effective. What we need most at the present time in order to support these refugees, especially in light of the protracted crises that surround us, is financial assistance ‘cash distribution’ so that we can provide the most appropriate assistance to them, for them to buy what they need. There are institutions that provide in-kind assistance, but as individuals, the best way is to make a financial donation. Donation is made through our platforms, and it is possible to specify the humanitarian crisis that the donor wishes to direct his donation to, either through the zakat platform zakat.unhcr.org or the regular donations page giving.unhcr.org.
When donating, there is a dedicated team of donor relations which closely follows each donation and contacts each donor personally through the method preferred by the donor (email, phone, etc.) The donors are included in periodicals and special reports on each campaign.
- As we close this interview, Mr. Khaled, is there a message you would like to convey to the donors?
I would like to conclude with words of thanks and appreciation to our donors, and I say to everyone, hope for the best and you shall find it. The moment may come when we feel helpless in doing more for people in need. I tell you that your donations make a big difference every day. Be hopeful and continue helping, because your acts of kindness are a lifeline for millions of families around the world that lost everything in a matter of seconds.