Global community should help Iran address refugee issues: S. Korean envoy

The issue of refugees in Iran is not the problem of a certain country, so definitely they need the assistance from the global community, ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Iran, Ryu Jeong-Hyun, said in an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times.

He made the remarks on the sidelines of the signing ceremony of a US$2.2 million multi-year contribution from the Republic of Korea to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to support 30,000 of the most vulnerable Afghan refugees living in settlements in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“[Such issues] do not just concern one country, it’s a matter of concern for the countries of the region. So we need cooperation and collaboration [of other countries] to address these issues.

“Korea has developed from the ashes of the Korean War (1950-1953), so we needed the assistance from the international community. We never forget the donations made to Korea and now we are returning the favor to the international community through our contributions. Maybe that’s why my government decided to make contributions to WFP as well as UNHCR,” he explained.

According to World Food Program official website, continuing its impressive progression from one-time recipient to major donor, the Government of the Republic of Korea made a historic $42.5 million contribution to the United Nations World Food Program in February. WFP was planned to use the funds to purchase 50,000 metric tons of Korean rice and provide life-saving food assistance in Syria, Yemen, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.

The Korean ambassador to Tehran went on to say that “as I mentioned before the issue of refugees is not just a problem for one country. The Iranian government have successfully addressed the problem of refugees together with the international organizations. To my knowledge the so-called SSAR [Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees to Support Voluntary Repatriation, Sustainable Reintegration and Assistance to Host Countries] initiated by UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) and WFP and other countries including Iran have successfully tackled refugees issues.”

“The Korean government also fully support the implementation of the programs regarding refugees.

“I was born in late 1960s and at the time Korea was developing from the ruins of the Korean War. In the process we received the very precious international assistance from many countries and then we successfully became a developed country.

“Maybe during that time the Korean Government and Korean people fully understood how important and valuable that assistance was and maybe that’s the reason why my government tries its best to share its knowledge together with the country and people who need the help.

“The Korean government has contributed a total of US$24.5 billion for humanitarian assistance for 134 million people in 40 countries. This is not a big number but my government will try its best to expand our contribution to the countries and people who need our assistance. As the ambassador of the Korean embassy in Tehran I reiterate my commitment again that we will try our best to support the people who need our assistance.”

Jeong-Hyun also commented on World Humanitarian Day, August 19, saying that “I think there are many ways to help people. Maybe we can donate some money and in-kind contribution as well but at the same time in Korea many civil societies voluntarily support the rescue operations, donate small money and maybe through that voluntary contribution we can do more.”

Money, well-spent 

WFP Representative and Country Director in Iran, Negar Gerami, for her part, expressed her appreciation and gratitude to the people and the government of the Republic of Korea for the generous multi-year contribution.

Gerami went on to explain that the contribution will be used to provide food security to Afghan refugees.

“These are the most vulnerable ones who live in settlements across the country.  Since January we have shifted from an in-kind transfer modality to a cash transfer modality. The reason we have done it is because the country has the infrastructure in place. Usually WFP in situation where market are available and it’s just that people don’t have the means to buy food shifts to cash instead of in-kind. This is a more dignified way of assisting people and it provides a freedom of course and it helps diversity a person’s food intake.

“In the past we used to give five staple items in our food basket which was wheat flour, rice, sugar, oil and pulses. Now with the equivalent of the money the person can go out and shop and can buy eggs, dairy products, and vegetables. This would help to provide more nutritious and more diverse food basket to the people in need.

“And we hope that with this contribution we can continue to assist these most vulnerable refugees to buy wheat flour locally because that is still part of our assistance modality. Wheat flour is the only commodity that you cannot go to a supermarket to buy and you have to go to a bakery to buy it. Many of these refugees have ovens in their homes so they can bake their own bread. So wheat flour will be provided in-kind but the rest will be used to provide them with monthly cash assistance.

Inquired about other donor countries Gerami highlighted that Korea is one of WFP’s largest donors along with Germany and China.

“This is the third time Korea is making a donation to WFP Iran. The first time was in 2014 and the second donation was made in 2016.

“We also have a lot of private donations coming. People from civil society. Iranians also contribute to our projects,” she added.

Humanitarian workers are not a target

Gerami, too, commented on World Humanitarian Day saying that “On August 19, 2003, 22 of our colleagues lost their lives in Iraq at the Canal Hotel bombing. Amongst them was Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN’s top representative in Iraq. And this is a day when we commemorate and think of all people who risk their lives to help people in need. So it’s my day, our day and all humanitarians and anyone who is doing good for humanity.

“This is a day to think about the deeds that can be done and how we can alleviate the suffering of those people who are suffering from conflicts and wars and natural disasters on a daily basis.

“Fortunately Iran is not a country where security is an issue for the UN personnel. But in many countries such as Afghanistan and our neighboring countries it is an issues. #notatarget is one of the themes of the World Humanitarian Day because humanitarian workers are not a target, but unfortunately they are becoming more and more of a target. In 2009 our office in Islamabad was blown up by a suicide bomber we lost 10 colleagues in our office and this is unfortunately happening way too often and this has to stop,” she concluded.

Figures at a glance

According to the UN Refugee Agency, nearly 1 person is forcibly displaced every two seconds in the world as a result of conflict or persecution. In its annual Global Trends report, released in June 2018, UNHCR said 68.5 million people were displaced as of the end of 2017. Refugees who have fled their countries to escape conflict and persecution accounted for 25.4 million of the 68.5 million over half of whom are under the age of 18.

The Islamic Republic of Iran continues to host one of the largest and most protracted refugee populations of the world. Iran has been generously hosting an estimated 3.5 million refugees residing in Iran, inclusive of registered refugees, passport holders and undocumented ones – the fourth largest refugee population in the world – for more than three decades. The vast majority of these, mainly from Afghanistan and Iraq, live in urban areas, with only three percent living in 20 settlements spread across the country.

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