Raja Furqan Ahmed;
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was created in 1950 during the aftermath of the Second World War to help millions of Europeans who had fled or lost their homes. In 1954, UNHCR won the Nobel Peace Prize for its groundbreaking work in Europe. Due to the political tension and civil wars, the UNHCR role increases around the globe. The start of the 21st century has seen UNHCR help with major refugee crises in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Pakistan hosts more than 1.4 million registered Afghans who have been forced to flee their homes. The first wave of Afghan refugees to Pakistan began during the Soviet-Afghan War in the late1970s. Later on U.S. invasion in Afghanistan by the end of 2001, Figure of an Afghan refugee increased. The UNHCR reported in 2017 that about 1.3 million registered Afghan citizens still remained in Pakistan however the number of unregistered people is much higher than the actual. In 2018, UNHCR’s work in Pakistan includes working with the authorities to give refugees access to health and education services, strengthening social cohesion between refugees and their host communities and helping refugees who decide voluntarily to return home. They also facilitate some 54,000 children to enrol in primary schools and continue to ensure the rights of registered Afghan refugees are protected. In the recent pandemic called COVID-19, UNHCR again steps up efforts to support the response of the government of Pakistan against COVID-19. The UN Refugee Agency is dispatching core relief items in support of the government. The relief items include medical supplies and sanitation products. UNHCR Deputy Representative in Pakistan, Mr Iain Hall said that UNHCR is committed to supporting the Government’s COVID-19 prevention and response measures. The Agency’s priority is to contribute to the overall effort to minimize the spread and impact of the virus. He further said that UNHCR will provide medical supplies and consumables including personal protective equipment (PPE), which will be delivered to support the people of Pakistan and the Afghan refugees that they have so generously hosted for forty years. Furthermore, UNHCR delivers housing units, Rubb halls to support quarantine facilities in Balochistan. UNHCR has provided 14 self-standing and durable housing units to the provincial Health Department in Balochistan province. The large Rubb Halls that were delivered to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority is expected to accommodate a number of suspected COVID-19 patients. Previously, UNHCR had also donated five fully equipped ambulances to the Balochistan Government. The Head of UNHCR’s Sub-Office in Quetta, Mr Zephania Amuiri said that such support and assistance will help strengthen the Provincial Government’s efforts to effectively respond to the current pandemic. UNHCR and its partners are also reaching out to refugee communities to disseminate critical public health information on COVID-19. During the pandemic, UNHCR skills project also help people to earn at home amid coronavirus outbreak. Saleema Habibullah, an Afghan refugee originally from Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, has faced enormous struggles in her lifetime. Despite the tragic losses that she experienced, she leads a life free from fear and full of hope for the future, even in the most difficult of times. She shared her experience that she was only twenty when all the men in her family were killed in a bombing incident in Quetta. Her paternal uncle was so heart-broken that he died from a heart attack. At the time, Saleema fought for her family – a paralyzed aunt and cousin, who was her only remaining relatives, by taking a bold step to leave her home and seek opportunities. Saleema thanks to UNHCR’s Safe from the Start (SFS) programme as she learned new skills, such as embroidery, tailoring and kilim-making, and applies them daily. The new skills enabled Saleema to become a master trainer at UNHCR’s programme. She has also established a centre at her house to provide skills to girls and run a small business. Saleema earns from the job and home-based business. She said Even at this challenging time when the COVID-19 outbreak has affected the country; I am able to earn a decent living while staying at home. Today, she is the sole breadwinner in her family, paying off all of the heavy debt that they accumulated over time. Such as UNHCR, other organization should also play its role in the betterment of the society and providing new programs and opportunities which help masses to earn some penny.