UNHCR Official Flees Field Post
Volume 1, Issue 4-5 / March-April 2009
A routine visit by a UNHCR official to Field Post was halted as dissatisfied refugees began to stone the premises and the UNHCR official fled to a get-away vehicle.
Activities at Field Post One came to a standstill on 16th March as disorder erupted and the UNHCR officer was compelled to evacuate the premises.
The routine visit to field post by a UNHCR representative was interrupted after refugees dissatisfied with the orders of the day began to stone the office.
The UNHCR officer found it difficult to carry on work as conditions grew more strained. Realizing that the climate was becoming tense, she radioed for a UN vehicle to pick her immediately. As the vehicle arrived, refugee clients began stoning the premises and she fled.
It appears that the disturbance was fueled by the perception that clients were not being seen in a fair and systematic manner. One Congolese refugee woman who was present complained, “She said that she would attend first to the cases which were pending [from last week] before she could start with the new ones.”
Angered refugees were also upset at a refugee caseworker who was allegedly favoring clients from his own Somali community. According to one witness, “This fellow’s behavior was rather the origin of the unrest. He came with his list [of clients to be seen] and wanted the officer to serve the people on that list.”
Sheer numbers also prompted unrest. A caseworker remarked that refugee clients had arrived in large numbers that day, and there was no security guard on duty. “It is the common perception among most refugees that an mzungu [white] officer deals more effectively with cases than a national staff,” the caseworker added.
In addition, the field post routine on 16th March was slightly altered. According to normal routine, caseworkers bring lists of clients to facilitate the process. However, on 16th March another list had been received from a counterpart manager, thus interfering with the expected routine.
Unfortunately, only a few cases are dealt with on any given day at field post, while most remain pending until the next week’s visit. In this way, some cases remain unattended for months or even years.
Generally, refugees arrive at field post as early as 7:00 am and wait until 10:00 am when a UNHCR official typically arrives to begin hearing cases.
UNHCR visits to field posts operate according to a timetable that allocates communities for particular days scheduled from Monday to Thursday. According to this schedule, 16th March was designated for Ugandan, Great Lakes, and Somali communities.
As overcrowding and long wait lists are typical at field post, it remains unclear why refugees reacted in this unusually passionate manner.
See also: “UNHCR Field Posts Aim to Protect Refugees,” February 2009