By Maryam Qarehgozlou

WFP Iran, S. Korea join hands to build refugees’ self-reliance 

May 4, 2019

TEHRAN — On Wednesday the Republic of Korea made a generous contribution of $2 million to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to build refugees’ self-reliance through vocational training in Iran.

The money is aimed to support over the coming two years 30,000 of the most vulnerable Afghan refugees living in settlements in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

According to WFP Representative in Iran, Negar Gerami, the Republic of Korea remains WFP’s top donor in Iran having contributed $9.6 million to WFP operations since 2014.

The funds is planned to be used to create income-generating opportunities for vulnerable Afghans living inside and outside of settlements. WFP will provide refugee men and women with the technical and vocational training they need to start small businesses. They will receive start-up capital after completing their training.

Moreover, those who already have the necessary skills will receive either WFP cash transfers or equipment to help them start up a small business such as carpet and kilim weaving, embroidery, tailoring and other handicrafts.

In an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Iran, Ryu Jeong-Hyun explained that the Korean government has assisted the Afghan refugees here in Iran since 2014 through World Food Program and UNHCR as well.

“Since 2014 we made $25.4 million through the UNHCR and WFP. Basically the funds were provided to Afghan refugees in Iran and so far together with the UN agencies we focused on helping refugees to settle down here and also provide them with food and livelihood,” he said.

Income-generating opportunities for refugees

The Korean ambassador went on to say that “As you know the World Food Program is one of the most outstanding UN agencies in Iran. They have a long history for supporting refugees and vulnerable people here, so this time we thought about enhancing refugees’ self-reliance and their livelihood through vocational training and education.”

Gerami, the WFP Representative in Iran, for her part, highlighted that “this time the contributions made by Korea is earmarked for self-reliance activities. As his Excellency mentioned the people of the Republic of Korea have been generous towards the World Food Program and the people the World Food Program is assisting for many years. This contribution is above and beyond a contribution that was made by the Republic of Korea for food assistance.

“So this $2 million is on top of the $2.2 million contribution that we received recently which was earmarked for food assistance and for cash for food which we will be distributing among the refugees under our assistance in settlements in Iran.

“This contribution is going to be focusing on building their self-reliance, on vocational training and on livelihood activities. It’s important for the people receiving the assistance as they will be able to take care of themselves. One of the issues about food is that you cannot give a person food once and stop. It has to be continuous and sustainable in order to maintain the level of food security which is acceptable.

“At the same time if we help people in need to be able to take care of themselves that would in the end contribute to get into zero hunger which is the goal that we have. This contribution will be focusing on that.

“We are having a two-tier two-pronged approach, if the person already has the skills and the skill-sets to create a livelihood opportunity for him or herself we will provide through the contribution of the Republic of Korea a start-up capital. So that they can actually start a business with the small money that they have. The Afghans are really entrepreneurial, and they have proved in the past that they are really resilient. So if they already have a skill-set they will be provided with a start-up capital.

“If they don’t we will again through the contributions provide training opportunities to them, so that they can develop their skills and be able to get into a livelihood opportunity and take care of themselves.

“It may seem that World Food Program is about food only, yes it is but it goes a step beyond that, we have actually moved away from food aid as we call it unconditional food to food-assistance which is using food as a purpose for creating capacity-building and livelihood opportunities so we do use food in that sense in order to build up capacities. We have various projects all over the world what we call food for assets, so we give people food to create assets, we have food for work as we give people food in lieu of the work that they provide, and we also have food for education, so again we provide food for them to be educated.”

Humanitarian assistance to flood victims

Commenting on humanitarian assistance to flood victims in Iran Ambassador Jeong-Hyun stated that recently following the damages recent floods caused in Iran in 25 provinces the Korean government donated a small money [$200,000] to the flood victims.

“We keep close cooperation and coordination with the Iranian authorities both the government as well as the Red Crescent Society,” he highlighted. 

Gerami also said that “floods were devastating, they affected 25 out of 31 provinces, and many of the people who were affected, in Golestan province for example, were also from the refugee communities.  However, we do not make any distinctions, if the person is in need we assist.

“They UN very quickly stepped in and offered its condolences and assistance. We were part of an assessment team that went to the field on April 10. Three assessment teams were sent into the fields in Lorestan, Golestan and Ilam provinces which were among the most affected. Speaking with the people and authorities and seeing for ourselves the extent and level of damage, each UN agency, given its mandate, developed a project, for assistance.

“Here in WFP we mobilized from our own immediate response account for the purchase of food parcels to be delivered through the Iranian Red Crescent Society to the people in need.

“The food parcels that we will be distributing will go to Khuzestan province because it was announced as one of the most hard-hit and most in need. At the moment we are in the process of purchasing the food parcels, there is about 30 kilogram in each parcel of mixed commodities and we are buying it and delivering it to the Iranian Red Crescent Society and we will be present during the distribution. It will be enough to feed about 40,000 people for one month. It’s very important that this happens now because we are fast approaching the month of Ramadan and it’s very important for the people to have nourishing and nutrient commodities in their food basket.

“The majority of the flood victims are Iranians and the assistance is both provided to the Iranians as well as refugees. This is part of our mandate. In Iran we usually concentrate on issues related to the refugees but we are always present during natural disasters and offer assistance to the people of Iran when there is a need to do so and this is one of those circumstances. We also did the same during the Bam earthquake back in 2003.

Impacts of sanctions on humanitarian assistance

Inquired about the negative impacts of sanctions on humanitarian assistance, particularly during the time of disaster, the Korean ambassador highlighted that “humanitarian assistance is not a matter of a certain country. It’s kind of a universal issue and a noble endeavor that we should all cooperate to address them.

“Sanctions would inevitably impact regional stability and also free trade globally. The Korean government has put and also will put great importance on its relations with Iran. Iran is a very important friend and partner for Korea not only in the area of economics but also in cultural and political arenas as well as people to people exchange. We are facing more difficult situation now but I think we can overcome these difficulties through our close cooperation and collaboration.

“To my knowledge, European countries are also considering ways to overcome these difficult situations, for example by designing INSTEX. I think the problem can be solved through peaceful dialogue and these situations can be solved through diplomacy I think.”

Gerami also stated that “WFP is a humanitarian agency, we are not political, and we are there to help people in need, and that’s exactly what we are doing, we have continued with our operation thanks to the generous contributions from donors such as the Republic of Korea.

“We are assisting the Afghan population in Iran who are in need of assistance and we also stepped in during the floods. So due to the humanitarian nature of our operations I do not see any problems in that sense. We stand by the people and we assist whoever is in need,” she concluded.

Iran hosts the world’s fifth largest refugee population, with nearly one million registered Afghan and Iraqi refugees.

WFP has been providing assistance to refugees in Iran since the arrival of the first asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq in the late 1980s.                               

The United Nations World Food Programme - saving lives in emergencies and changing lives for millions through sustainable development. WFP works in more than 80 countries around the world, feeding people caught in conflict and disasters, and laying the foundations for a better future.

MQ/MG

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