ABU DHABI // The UAE has been invited to join an elite club of countries that have contributed significantly to the United Nations' refugee agency. The Emirates has been invited to become a member of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) group of primary donors, all of which have given more than US$20 million (Dh73m) in the past year to pay for the agency's humanitarian efforts.
The group, formed in 2002 with nine members, is currently made up of 17 countries, including the US, Britain, Finland, Japan and Spain. "This means a real recognition for the humanitarian role of the UAE as the first Arab and Muslim country to become a member of the group," said a senior UN official. "It is a real appreciation of the work within the multilateral system to help refugees and internally displaced people."
A letter of invitation has been sent by the UNHCR to the Government, thanking it for its generosity and "in appreciation of the momentous role of the UAE's leadership, government and people in contributing outstandingly to humanitarian action in various parts of the world". So far, there has been no official reaction from the Government to the accolade. Membership in the group, described by the agency as "the world's major donors", will allow the UAE to attend monthly meetings hosted by the UNHCR.
According to the official, meetings can be convened at ambassadorial level by the high commissioner, but they are more commonly held at working level, in which representatives put forward ideas and discuss refugee-related topics. The UN official said he hoped the UAE would be able to join the group's next meeting on Friday in Geneva. "It is important to bring in an Arab and Muslim country into policymaking, and to have a UAE perspective," he said.
"This is a big and significant development in the relationship between UNHCR and the UAE. The relationship is more of a partnership with the UAE and I hope it will improve further." In recent years, donors from the UAE - including individuals, organisations and government foundations - have increasingly engaged with UN agencies. In July, the Khalifa bin Zayed Foundation and the UNHCR signed an accord that was hailed as the refugee agency's largest partnership in the Arab world for three decades.
The agreement bolstered relief efforts to help two million internally displaced Pakistanis in the North-West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, after they sought refuge from the conflict between Pakistan's army and the Taliban. The UNHCR was founded in 1951 to assist the repatriation of people uprooted during the Second World War. It currently works with 10.5 million "refugees of concern" worldwide and also provides help to internally displaced people, the number of which reached 26m worldwide in 2008.
The agency is almost entirely funded by voluntary contributions, with 93 per cent of its budget coming from governments. In 2008, the top donors were the US, which contributed US$510m (Dh1.8 billion), the European Commission, which gave $130m and Japan, which donated $110m. The agency's annual budget doubled from $lbn in the early 1990s to $2bn this year. According to UNHCR, the largest numbers of internally displaced people last year were in Sudan, Colombia and Iraq.