Photo by Eyasu Etsub on Unsplash

“Boris collapsed in his bath this morning and has been admitted at the Cantonal Hospital”, was the WhatsApp message I received from Agnes, my son Boris’ wife, one morning as I left a meeting.

After my appointment as United Nations Assistant Humanitarian Coordinator and the Director of the Office for Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), with direct responsibility for coordinating international response to natural disasters, I arrived in Geneva on Christmas Eve 2004. I spent Christmas in the company of my daughter and family and my sister who was visiting from London.

Photo by Lerone Pieters on Unsplash

I lived in Norwood, New Jersey. It was a bright sunny morning as I drove to work at the United Nations in New York, 22 miles away. That morning, I left home very early, at 7am, as I had a meeting at the Japanese Permanent Mission in New York at 10am, to discuss the planning for the third Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD). As director for Africa in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, I represented the Secretary General in the Task Force charged with the organization of this conference. …

Photo by Unknown Wong on Unsplash

The civil war in Liberia started in 1989 and a number of refugees crossed the borders into Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra Leone. While the caseloads in Guinea in Cote d’Ivoire had received some attention, those who crossed the border into Sierra Leone had not benefited from much attention. Before this influx of Liberian refugees, the Sierra Leone Office of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which was based in the capital Freetown had only dealt with urban refugees from a number of West African countries, providing counseling and assistance grants.

photo by author

Lessons from my Experiences

Have you ever wondered how relief workers traveling long distances in remote areas meet their sanitary needs?

Aware Scenery showing the so called “Thorn Bushes”.

Unforeseen Impact of Funding Shortfalls of UNHCR Programme in 1989

In the early part of 1989, the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR faced what was described at the time, as the most difficult and critical financial crisis in its 40-year history. By mid-year, it became clear that the organization would only receive about 80 per cent of the amount budgeted at the end of 1988. This happened at a time when there were new influxes of refugees, the most serious of these in the Horn of Africa, where over 300,000 Somali refugees entered the Jijiga and Aware districts of south-eastern Ethiopia.

Meeting with A Group of Chadian Refugee Women in Central African Republic

The Inclusion of Menstrual Hygiene Supplies

As a woman, I found it embarrassing that I had not been concerned about the needs of women refugees in terms of menstrual supplies, from the beginning of my work with refugees. Usually, when I visited refugee locations, I requested separate meetings with the women. These meetings were most revealing compared with the general meetings we had with all refugees, in which mostly the men spoke. Women would talk about the basic needs such as food, water and general living conditions, while the men seemed to focus on material things such as money for cigarettes and purchase of radios.

Djibouti Landscape

An Unexpected Form of Protest

It was in 1984 and many of the over 40,000 Ethiopian refugees in Djibouti had been repatriated to Ethiopia following the usual tripartite agreement between Ethiopia, Djibouti and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). However, a residual caseload still remained and were hosted in the Ali Sabieh and Dikhil camps, with the remainder living in the urban areas, especially the slum suburb of Balbala.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Experiences from United Nations Field Missions

Me at the Office of the United Nations Refugee Agency in Tehran in 1986

Seeking Vocational Training Opportunities for Refugees in Iran

It was in 1986. I was part of a UNHCR mission to evaluate the situation of Afghan refugees in Iran and to recommend what the Office could do to assist the Iranian Government in providing for these refugees. I was the only woman in the mission team of 5 persons and my particular task was to seek vocational training opportunities to enable refugees to find employment.

Yvette Stevens

I spent 28 years working for the United Nations on humanitarian aid and development and six years as Ambassador of Sierra Leone to the United Nations in Geneva

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