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PERSPECTIVES AND MEMORIES FROM THE FIELD

1961-64 - Geneva

I was appointed to a challenging job in “resettlement”:  teamwork between UNHCR and a number of other agencies resulted in the move from China of elderly Russians fleeing communism a second time to countries willing to take them in. At the same time, there was at long last the clearance of post-war camps in Austria, Germany, Greece and Italy, new immigration quotas having been issued thanks to the effect of World Refugee Year benefiting people earlier refused the chance of starting new lives.

Welcoming Russian refugees from China

1964/65 - Burundi

Then three years later, UNHCR sent me to a new job in the Great Lakes area of Africa after a dramatic exodus from Rwanda into the four surrounding countries. The 18 months at the small UNHCR Regional Office in Bujumbura involved trips, both by air and road,  to Kampala (Uganda), Bukavu (Congo) and Goma (Congo) in relation to various field operations.  Later, I was back in that region as head of a UNHCR sub-office, Bukavu.

In Burundi one often saw beautiful crested cranes (but less often crocodiles!)

Long-horned cattle on the shore of Lake Tanganyika (the longest lake in Africa)

1966 - Holland

The UNHCR representative in The Hague had thought up a day’s fund-raising campaign that would raise money to enable Tibetan refugees in India to settle down after their seven years of near-destitution in remote mountain areas. Twenty countries of Europe participated in the campaign, that was coordinated through periodic meetings in Amsterdam chaired by Prince Bernhard, and our months of effort in The Hague.  (The switch from central Africa to Holland had had the effect of giving me a degree of culture shock!)

 

1975/76 - Loas and Vietnam

UNHCR was helping people displaced by intensive Vietnam War bombings to return to their villages. The 13 months based in Vientiane, Laos, necessitating trips to Bangkok (Thailand) and Hanoi (Vietnam) were (on the whole) an enchantment, and ever since I have had a longing to return, although there has of course been quite an evolution and no longer can one expect on return to see a herd of cows wandering along Vientiane’s main street, or to hear lilting music everywhere.

Colour and beauty in Luang Prabang

Preparing rice fields for planting

The majestic Mekong

A typical street scene in Hanoi

Harvest in full swing

A busy street in Ventiane!

Monks on their daily quest, early morning, Luang Prabang

Little boats on the wide Mekong

Student demonstrations (anti-USA of course)

1976/77 - Congo

Hutu refugees from Burundi could at last set up an agricultural settlement in South Kivu after several years of frustrating inactivity.  My 14 months in Kivu included visits to the Tutsi refugees in North Kivu who after 13 years still had no identity papers. The very many road trips on unbelievable roads leave memories of an astoundingly skilful driver, of incomparable views across the vast expanses of Lake Tanganyika, and of the people and cattle in remote highland areas near the huge volcanoes where mountain gorillas live.

An approach road to Bukavu, capital of Kivu (Congo)

Military up country

1978 - Argentina

The work in Argentina was to prepare documentation on each of the refugees required to leave Argentina, to enable them to obtain visas to other countries. Sweden and several other European countries were well disposed towards admitting Latin American refugees, as were Australia, Canada and the USA. For the Chileans, Australia seemed so very far away! and no one wished to go to the USA because they knew of Washington’s involvement in the savage military coup. Any refugee with a handicap needed a much more detailed dossier than did all the others.

Travelling in the Andes, the famous mountain range thousands of miles long that is a feature in no fewer than 7 Latin American countries

A puppy to cuddle near the Chilean border

The Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas, rises to 6,962metres above sea level

1986 - Rwanda

In the course of planning and running regional training workshops, I spent just under two weeks in Rwanda with delegates from a dozen Red Cross societies of Africa. Our host was the Rwanda Red Cross that had recently looked after an influx of refugees from Uganda.

1980s - Honduras

In Honduras, I travelled to the border areas where Miskito Indians who had fled the conflict in Nicaragua needed ongoing assistance, provided by the international Red Cross through the Honduran Red Cross. Like the refugees and the local people, the UNHCR delegate and I lived on rice and pasta for several days while “vetting” the programme.

The two-year old on the left, Eugène, born as a stateless refugee in Bujumbura, used to climb on my knee when I visited the family - back in 1964/5. His parents were refugees from Rwanda (having fled the 1959 violence between Hutu and Tutsi). 

I met Eugène and his father again in 1986, shortly before his father died. Then we had a great reunion in 2015. Eugène had become Rwandan ambassador to the UN New York.

A cool scene that belies the 38-degree heat

A typical Miskito house in an area of Honduras sheltering refugees from Nicaragua

The Piper aircraft that ferried me from the capital, Tegucigalpa, to the border area

Bosnia & Herzegovina - 1996

Typical mountain scenery of the Balkans

Not only devastation but also  apparent signs of recent ethnic cleansing

The times in the field were certainly stimulating and sometimes quite exciting too. With both UNHCR and the international Red Cross, I had to travel to Latin America several times, so with all those missions on four continents, I got to be alongside people of many different nationalities and backgrounds whom it was a privilege to be with. It should perhaps be said that a number of the situations in which people like me have found themselves are certainly very much out of the ordinary! Having said that, one never gets used to seeing homelessness and other forms of suffering. I have always admired the faith, hope and courage that I found many, or perhaps most, refugees demonstrated.