Saudi Arabia Is a Key Donor of Refugees Relief Programs
16 December 2019
Saudi Arabia supported UNHCR programs in the GCC countries, in responding to emergencies and sustainable development initiatives.
The regional representative of the UNHCR to the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Mr. Khaled Khalifa stressed that the organization’s duties encounter more difficult challenges than before due to the increasing numbers of refugees. Mr. Khalifa hailed the effective role of the GCC countries in general and Saudi Arabia in particular in supporting UNHCR’s relief programs. Mr. Khalifa praised the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center as one of UNHCR’s key partners in Saudi Arabia, for its generous contributions in supporting UNHCR programs.
As the Regional Representative of the UNHCR to the States of the Gulf Cooperation Council, can you explain the UNHCR’s mandate and more about your work in the GCC?
The Gulf Cooperation Council countries are a key partner of UNHCR which has been working in the GCC for the last 30 years. It is an important hub for us both regionally and globally. Broadly speaking, UNHCR is the UN Refugee Agency. We are mandated to serve and protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people around the world. We provide life-saving assistance and advocate for their rights and protection.
The number of refugees under UNHCR’s care is 20.4 million and has nearly doubled since 2012 when it stood at 10.5 million.Our work is more critical today than ever. By the end of 2018, almost 70.8 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. Almost two-thirds of those uprooted from their homes are internally displaced people, or IDPs, meaning they were displaced within the borders of their own countries. Right on our doorstep, in the Middle East and North Africa region we have witnessed unprecedented displacement both internally and across borders in the last few years.
Our region is going through turbulent times with multiple crises and consequent economic decline in many countries like Yemen, Syria and Iraq. The Countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in particular, have supported a number of our life-saving programs and efforts across the region and beyond. The contributions of the GCC governments have contributed to emergency response and long-term sustainable development initiatives benefitting displaced persons and host communities.
In the GCC, UNHCR largely focuses on mobilizing resources from governmental and non-governmental sources to address the needs of refugees and displaced persons globally. We count on the generosity and giving nature of the people and governments of the GCC including the government of Saudi Arabia which has been a valuable donor over the last few years.
Your Regional office for the GCC is based in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Who are your main partners in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? What impact would you say these partnerships have had on the lives of refugees and displaced people around the world?
The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief ) has been a close and loyal partner of UNHCR’s since its establishment in 2015. As one of our most prominent partners in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the KSRelief has since assisted worth approximately SAR198 million (US$53 million).
The contributions have supported thousands of refugees and displaced people in some ways including the provision of core relief items such as blankets, mattresses and cooking stoves amongst other household essentials to displaced persons inside Yemen; as well as supporting Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan with cash assistance and dialysis treatment respectively. The KSRelief is currently providing shelter support to Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh.
Additionally, The Saudi Fund for Development has also played an important role in supporting UNHCR’s work. Since 2010, the Fund has donated over SAR 243 million (US$65 million) in support of UNHCR’s shelter and energy projects in Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand as well as countries affected by the Syria refugee crisis including Lebanon and Jordan.
Finally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Interior both facilitate UNHCR’s access to populations of concern and help protect their rights within the framework of local legislation and international standards.
How can the international community, Saudi Arabia and Saudi citizens support your work and the work of your agency?
In advocating for the protection of refugees, we call for the strengthening of international commitments to treat refugees humanely and to respect their basic rights by introducing inclusive policies that contribute to broadening the protection space while at the same time allowing refugees to utilize their skills and expertise to become self-reliant.
It is important to remain cognizant of the fact that communities and individuals are often the first responders once an emergency occurs, and therefore their contributions are not only limited to donations. Local populations welcome refugees and help them adapt to a new environment. They also play an important role in raising awareness among their friends and families - reminding them that refugees are people like you and me who have hopes and dreams and the ability to positively contribute to society. In short, every one of us can make a difference in the lives of refugees and internally displaced people around the world.
With multiple displacement crises around the world, what would you say are the biggest challenges facing your agency today?
The biggest challenge we are facing is the unprecedented number of forcibly displaced people who need our help. In 2018, the number of new displacements was equivalent to an average of 37,000 people being forced to flee their homes every day.
The Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) currently hosts over 12.9 million refugees and internally displaced persons due to humanitarian crises in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Delivering aid is no easy feat; especially when working in emergencies, where we often face security restrictions and difficulties in accessing displaced populations in hard-to-reach areas. With many crises in need of funding, we often face funding shortfall and straining the ability of donors particularly in protracted situations which negatively affect our ability to deliver timely assistance to all those who need it.