Céline Schmitt is Head of External Relations and Spokesperson for UNHCR in France, the United Nations Refugee Agency. She tells us about the crisis of refugees fleeing Ukraine and the actions of the UNHCR in Ukraine and in the neighboring countries. She also reminds us that there are many crises and that UNHCR is mobilized on 31 of them, including Afghanistan and works in 132 countries.
Foundation: Can you give us an overview of the crisis as of March 21, 2022? How many people are affected? Where are they going?
CS: To date, the UNHCR has counted nearly 3,400,000 refugees who have fled Ukraine since February 24, due to the war. This figure is based mainly on data provided by the authorities from official border crossings. Most refugees are women and children, due to the requirement that men between the age of 18 and 60 remain in Ukraine.
Nearly 2 million refugees have gone to Poland, 500,000 to Romania, 355,000 to Moldova, 290,000 to Hungary and 235,000 to Slovakia. If you were to ask me this question again tomorrow, the figures would have risen considerably, as the exodus is so massive.
In addition, almost 6.5 million people are displaced within Ukraine. In total, 10 million people have been forced to flee their homes. This is now the largest displacement crisis since World War II.
Foundation: What is UNHCR doing in Ukraine?
CS: Our work is multifaceted and depends of course on the needs and the humanitarian access. We organize numerous distributions to displaced people and civilians in areas affected by military operations when we have access (food, mattresses, blankets, first necessity products, diapers for children…) and use our experience to help the authorities organize support for refugees (thanks to our technical, logistical, legal and coordination skills). We are also working to set up various aid programs, such as a cash distribution program for refugees who have had to leave everything behind. These actions are obviously going to grow: we currently have 116 employees on the ground and we intend to increase our presence as soon as the security conditions allow it.
Foundation: What are your activities in the countries bordering Ukraine, namely Poland, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, and Slovakia?
CS: In the same way, the activities we have set up support the responses organized by the authorities of the host countries, according to the needs on the ground. For this, we develop partnerships with many local actors. In all these countries, the UNHCR’s first mission is to protect refugees, whether at the borders (by setting up temporary shelters, organizing transportation to cities, informing refugees of their rights) or in the cities, by setting up legal and psychological support programs. We also have another important mission: to ensure the follow up with all our partners and refugees. It allows us to advise and guide the response and the measures put in place accordingly to the needs observed on the ground.
We have also started to set up programs in Poland and Moldova to distribute money to the most vulnerable families and to provide first necessity products (food, tents, warm clothing, etc.). We are also deploying the blue point system, which are safe places for families and children, including children who arrive alone, in order to direct them towards child protection systems and prevent the risks of abuse, exploitation and trafficking.
Foundation: UNHCR is mobilized on many other humanitarian emergencies, in 132 different countries, including Afghanistan, where the situation is critical. Can you tell us more about this?
CS: As you say, the situation is critical in many countries, including Afghanistan. It is estimated that 24 million people need humanitarian assistance and nearly 3.4 million people are internally displaced. Since 2022, UNHCR has helped more than 500,000 Afghans, distributing food, providing financial assistance, or building water infrastructure. We are also engaged in 55 local programs to strengthen communities and build resilience. Last week, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, visited Afghanistan to meet with representatives of the interim government as well as UN staff and NGOs who continue to provide vital assistance throughout the country. He reaffirmed our commitment to stay on the ground and provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.
For more information, please contact
– Céline Schmitt, Head of External Relations, and Spokesperson, email@example.com, Tel: +33 6 23 16 11 78
– Estelle MORANGE, Head of Private Partnerships & Philanthropy, firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: +33 7 68 92 31 93
– Gaëlle DEVOUCOUX, Head of Private Partnerships, email@example.com, Tel: +33 6 46 64 26 43
– The UNHCR portal with daily updated data on crises around the world https://data2.unhcr.org/fr/situations