x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

UNHCR high commissioner seeks agency status in capital

UNHCR has submitted a co-operation agreement to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

ABU DHABI // The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has submitted a co-operation agreement to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the hope it will be granted permission to operate as an agency from the capital. The UN body, which protects and supports refugees worldwide and assists in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country, put forward the proposal in May this year.

It opened an office in the capital three months ago, but has only one international staff member and operates under the umbrella of the UN Development Programme. Saado Quol, UNHCR's senior adviser in Abu Dhabi, says the agency hopes to develop a "fully fledged partnership" with the UAE if the UNHCR's suggestion is accepted by the Ministry. He said the agency was keen to be granted permission to raise money to continue the work of the Fund for Refugee Women and Children (FRWC), established more than five years ago by Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the widow of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, the founder of the nation.

Sheikha Fatima donated Dh2 million (US$544,000) to initiate the fund aimed at meeting the needs of refugee women and children around the world, in co-operation with the UAE Red Crescent Authority. But the UNHCR was forced to withdraw international staff from the country due to financial constraints within its organisation, and the development of FRWC stalled. Last month, the UN agency praised the UAE for its support and generosity, which included a US$10m donation by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, in October last year for UNHCR programmes aimed at helping Iraqi refugees in Syria. The contribution was equal to all contributions from the GCC region to the agency over the past 10 years.

In March this year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and his wife Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, also granted Dh570,000 raised at the annual Cartier Love Charity campaign to the refugee agency for sport programmes and gender awareness courses. The funds were used for projects in north-east Kenya's Dadaab camp, home to 184,000 mainly Somali refugees. Staff at UNHCR are assisting 32.9 million people in 110 countries around the world.

The agency was established on Dec 14 1950 by the UN General Assembly to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its goal is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees to ensure everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge. @Email:loatway@thenational.ae