Do you ever think about refugees and displaced persons - especially those in Africa And Asia? Put yourself in their shoes for a second! How did that feel? ASK ME ANYTHING!

Gitonga Lawrence Mwongera
Mar 11, 2018

From Africa to Asia and in the last few years Europe, the number of displaced persons has risen exponentially due to various reasons least of which is not War - both internal and external, terrorism, human trafficking, political persecution and economic reasons. Though there has been a lot of discussion about this issue at various forums and in international space rarely has the discussion been from the point of view of the displaced persons.

As a HUMANITARIAN RISK MANAGEMENT SPECIALIST specializing in supporting humanitarian organizations support this disadvantaged human population I have had an opportunity to interact extensively with them on two continents. From Bangladesh, Nigeria, Uganda, South Sudan, The Congo, Somalia and Kenya they have an interesting story to tell.

They need a voice. They need YOUR voice!

Conversation (60)

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Did you choose to work with cases in Africa and Asia? And why?
Mar 19, 8:26PM EDT0 Reply

Hi Ashley,

No I did not! Usually Humanitarian organizations respond to crisis as a matter of mandate. When they deploy they need critical response personnel and that is how people like me come in! The scale of refugee crisis means that a lot of resources are required to make a difference! The international community responds through organizations which deploy people like me! Anywhere I have been has been through an organisation. I am humbled and honored by that!

Mar 20, 7:01AM EDT0 Reply
What organization do you work for?
Mar 16, 3:43AM EDT1 Reply

I work for a UK based Risk Management that specializes in supporting humanitarian organization deploy securely in conflict and post conflict environments.

Mar 18, 2:03PM EDT0 Reply
What was your field of study at college that enabled you to get the position you are in right now?
Mar 15, 6:57PM EDT0 Reply

Hi Karolina,

My Bachelors degree is actually computer science. My career in risk management / Security and safety however took off when i joined the National Intelligence Service in my country in 2001. I vebtured into the humanitarian sector in 2008.

Mar 18, 2:05PM EDT0 Reply

This is going to be an odd question but here it goes. I rarely have the time for decent holiday and I can’t actually survive more than a day, two max not working so not really a loss there *but* I’ve been thinking recently I’d like to use that time usually used for annual leave to volunteer somewhere, abroad or locally. So question is, how complicated is that as a process? And what organisation/s would you recommend to turn to? And can one do that with a limited time per year?

Mar 15, 6:30PM EDT0 Reply

Hey Tatiana,

Sorry for my tardy reply. I have been in the field for a bit! Various organizations including the UN and other sometimes use volunteers. My advise would be to look at websites of humanitarian organizations and apply. Several I know like the NRC and DRC maintain a roster of rapid deployment response staff and I believe that would be a good fit for you! But anyone on this forum with suggestions about that is very welcome to share!

Mar 20, 7:06AM EDT0 Reply
Why was the Ebola response in West Africa the most interesting project for you? What happened during then?
Mar 13, 1:50AM EDT0 Reply

Hi Anna,

Mainly humanitarian organizations respond to crises that are either occasioned by armed conflict - say South Sudan - or by natural calamity - say Haiti after the earthquake. The Ebola response was unique at least for me because it was of a medical nature! Normally the security teams would support the responding team in managing the risk so as to deploy there operations as securely as possible. On this one we were confronted with a risk that we were not really equipped to handle and had to rely on our medical colleagues for that. You may be aware that many of the response staff including medical personnel ended up contracting the virus. Some succumbed to it.

This was quite an experience.

On a light touch maybe its easier to deal with a gun toting Al Shabaab insurgent than it is to deal with an unseen virus, right?

Mar 13, 11:22AM EDT0 Reply
What story do you have to tell from The Congo? What issues are they facing there?
Mar 12, 2:22PM EDT0 Reply

Hi Biljana,

With Congo what comes to mind is extreme insecurity for humanitarian staff. This is one frontier where staff of international organizations are targeted directly just because of what they do and stand for. Incidentally I am going into the Congo on a short assignment shortly. It would be interesting to revisit this around the beginning of June when I am back! 

Mar 20, 7:09AM EDT0 Reply
Having worked with displaced persons from both Asia and Africa, how do they differ between these two continents?
Mar 12, 12:04PM EDT0 Reply

Frankly there is not much difference. When you take away all the trappings of comfort we put around ourselves a human being is just a human being. The sense of desperation does not know color race or creed.

Mar 13, 11:29AM EDT0 Reply
You mentioned being attacked by Boko Haram. Did you get PTSD from that? How do you cope with such emotional stress?
Mar 12, 9:26AM EDT0 Reply

Hey Van,

You will be amazed that actually this is not really such a rare occurence in this line of work. Neither was it my first and i am sure it may not be my last. In the last few years cases of humanitarian workers being attacked just because they are humanitarian workers have been on the increase. Another interesting one is when i was held hostage in South Sudan in exchange for several other members of staff. Eventually i was released.

Anyway it is a disturbing experience when it happens but i would not go as far as categorizing it as PTSD. With the right support structures you deal with it. Mine is my family.

Organizations operating in such conditions have put in place measures to enable their staff deal with such including regular counselling, peer support mechanisms and regular R & R leave to spend time with family.

Mar 13, 11:28AM EDT0 Reply
Have you always worked as a humanitarian? If not, what were you doing before?
Mar 12, 7:10AM EDT0 Reply

Hey Danijela,

No i have not always worked as a humanitarian. Like many in the field especially in the thematic area of security i started out working for my country and government.

Mar 13, 11:31AM EDT0 Reply
What is the vetting process for refugees going into a specific country?
Mar 11, 5:49PM EDT0 Reply
What is temporary protection and in what ways is it detrimental to the refugee?
Mar 11, 4:27PM EDT0 Reply
What are some of the specific laws or rights you would like to see changed with regard to refugees and immigrants and what, from your personal experience has convinced you that these laws are ineffectual?
Mar 11, 4:25PM EDT0 Reply
Who are the institutions and people that assist the internally displaced and how do they go about doing so?
Mar 11, 1:37PM EDT0 Reply
How does UNHCR distinguish between a refugee and an economic migrant?
Mar 11, 12:33PM EDT0 Reply
What are some of the governmental laws in place to protect refugees?
Mar 11, 3:42AM EDT0 Reply
What are some of the rights to which a refugee is entitled?
Mar 10, 5:13PM EST0 Reply
Under what circumstances may a government deport persons who are found not to be refugees?
Mar 10, 4:38PM EST0 Reply
What are some of the misconceptions or stereotypes about refugees, and why do you believe these misconceptions exist?
Mar 10, 4:33PM EST0 Reply

The worst misconception i have seen in many of the refugee responses i have been in is where the host community (who are sometimes just as poor as the refugees) believe that the refugees are favoured by the international community at their expense. In some cases this has led to conflict between the refugees and the host communities. To manage this the responding humanitarian community must ensure proper and effective communication with the host community and sometimes commit to providing some services like water and health facilities to the host communities. This is not a global solution and each response has to deal with very specific issues. I have seen cases where the refugees have been ordered out either by the host communities or the host government on flimsy excuses like harbouring combatants and creating insecurity. The ongoing FORCED "HUMANE" REPATRIATION of Somali refugees from the Dadaab complex by the Kenya government is a case in point.

I think these arise because the refugees are sometimes perceived to be competing for scarce resources with the host communities.

Mar 13, 11:11AM EDT0 Reply
Who decides on who is a refugee and what does the classification process entail?
Mar 10, 2:32PM EST0 Reply

Hi Aminah,

In my experience sometimes you do not need to decide. In the case of Bangladesh for example the conflict in Myanmar that is driving out the Rohingya is well known and documented. In such cases they will come in droves (i have seen a period where as many as 800 were being received daily). In such cases the humanitarian agencies will just register them for purposes of planning at least at the initial stages. At this stage it is really a crisis. Later organizations like IOM which provide other support services including supported migration to third party countries come in and at this stage the deeper targetted takes place.

Again the case is different for MIGRANTS who as we have discussed are not necessarily refugees.

Mar 13, 11:03AM EDT0 Reply
Which countries maintain a resettlement quota and why are such quotas not always filled by UNHCR?
Mar 10, 12:00PM EST0 Reply
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