Daily Maverick (Johannesburg)

14 May 2014

South Africa: Op-Ed - How the UN in Cape Town Deals With Refugees - an Insider's Account

analysis

An internship with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) earlier this year was a frustrating experience for staff; even more so for the refugees. By Delphine Pedeboy for GROUNDUP.

I spent six weeks as an unpaid intern with the UNHCR. People who have experienced working for the UN warned me about the inefficiencies of this bureaucratic giant, but I wanted to experience it for myself.

The organisation's office in Cape Town was established following the xenophobic attacks in mid-2008. It deals with a huge number of refugees, mainly from Somalia and the Great Lakes region (DRC, Congo-Brazzaville, Burundi and Rwanda).

The purpose of the UNHCR in Cape Town is to protect refugees from ongoing attacks and to refer them to important services. The organisation works with several partners in Cape Town, who they refer the refugees to. Essentially, the UNHCR is the middleman between the refugees and these third-party organisations, such as ARESTA, Cape Town Refugee Centre and UCT Law Clinic.

The office to date only has five permanent members of staff. This is insufficient to meet demand. As I gathered over the course of my time there, the UNHCR Head Office for South Africa in Pretoria, however, believes the...

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