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World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day is marked on June 20th each year to raise awareness of the struggle of refugees and to highlight the important work being done around the world in support of them. Irish Aid is committed to providing assistance in situations of sudden and prolonged crises, in a number of countries around the world. There is a particular emphasis placed on the needs of refugees in the work that we do. As part of this work, Irish Aid operates a standby roster of highly skilled and experienced professionals, available to deploy at short notice to humanitarian emergencies anywhere in the world.  Members of Irish Aid’s Rapid Response Corps fill skills gaps recognised by four of our partner organisations:

-          the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),

-          the World Food Programme (WFP),

-          the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA),

-          the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

One of Irish Aid’s Rapid Responders Cathal O’Connor, was deployed to Kenya with the UNHCR, in August 2017 for 6 months. Cathal’s role was as a WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) Officer in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, located in North West Kenya. Kakuma has been home to refugees from over 20 countries for 25 years and was initially designed to accommodate 100,000 people in the early 1990s. However, in recent years there has been a surge in the camp’s population with a huge influx of refugees, the majority of whom are fleeing from protracted conflicts in Sudan and South Sudan, where there is an ongoing civil war. Other refugees who live in Kakuma come from countries such as Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Somalia. 

While in Kakuma, Cathal worked on surge capacity with UNHCR as part of their humanitarian and emergency response efforts. His main role was to address the challenges in providing clean water for the large numbers of families in the camp. The needs of these families were severe and demand for clean water often far exceeded supply. Cathal was responsible for ensuring that the refugee populations in Kakuma had safe access to quality, treated water and quality sanitation and hygiene facilities. He coordinated with UNHCR colleagues to develop pipe-works, bore-holes, and communal latrines.

In recent years, as Kakuma reached capacity UNHCR, along with the local government, decided to construct a long-term settlement that would better suit the needs of refugees affected by such lengthy conflicts. A new camp known as Kalobeyei, 30km north of Kakuma near the Sudanese border, was established to tackle overcrowding and host long-term refugees. This newer camp was designed to replicate a small town, providing all of the regular essential services, including shops and markets, mosques and churches, water systems, educational facilities and hospitals and health centres. Water was sourced from a local river and then pumped to water tanks before being distributed to stand-pipes and tap-stands in neighbourhoods throughout the camp.

World Refugee Day 2

As this new town of Kalobeyei grows, the temporary structures will become permanent homes and infrastructure will be constructed to deliver water directly to each household. A clean and safe water supply is especially crucial as the population of Kalobeyei increases and the families there become integrated into the socio-economic fabric of the surrounding area. This new water supply is already being used for a variety of everyday purposes to help the people there live with dignity and a sense of normalcy. In Kalobeyei, family vegetable gardens are now beginning to bear fruit and for the refugees who have spent many years fleeing war and bloodshed, it is a new lease of life for them, their families and community.

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