2021 Regional NGO Consultations

2021 Regional NGO Consultations (EHAGL)


The UNHCR Bureau for East, Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes, (EHAGL), in collaboration with the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), is organizing the 2021 Regional NGO Consultations. 

The themes will be: 

  • Localization of Humanitarian Action and Engagement with Communities in the COVID-19 Context
  • Implementation of the Global Refugee Forum Pledges
  • Socio-Economic Inclusion of Refugees
  • Climate Action

Objectives and outcomes

These first Regional Consultations will pursue the following objectives:

  • Analyze collective responses to the challenges and opportunities of engaging with refugee communities (innovative approaches, new synergies, ways of working more efficiently) in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, identify critical gaps and define key steps for the way forward.
  • Discuss the progress NGOs made in advancing the implementation of relevant GRF pledges, in particular those related to promoting resilience and inclusion of refugees and localization where relevant – and discuss contributions of NGOs as part of a multi-stakeholder/ whole of society process.
  • Share UNHCR’s framework for climate action and learn about NGO initiatives to address climate-related changes in the context of forced displacement.
  • Develop recommendations to inform future collaboration between UNHCR and NGOs and feed in to UNHCR’s 2021 Executive Committee Session, the 2021 GRF High-Level Officials Meeting, the 2022 Global NGO Consultations and the High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection in 2022. 

2021 NGO Consultations for the Southern Africa Region

Keynote Speech – Dr. Emmanuel Taban

1 September 2021

Thank you for inviting me and I am honoured to be the guest speaker in 2021 non-governmental organization virtual consultations conference for the Southern Africa region.

I would like to acknowledge the efforts of International Council of Voluntary Agencies and United Nation High Commission for Refugees for organizing this important regional event bringing united nation high commission for refugees and non-governmental organization partners together for Southern Africa region.

On 14 February 2020 the first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed on the continent of Africa. Today, there are more than 220 million confirmed cases worldwide, and 4.5 million deaths. The African continent has recorded 8 million cases – which represents less than 5% of cases globally – and 194,000 deaths. In terms of mortality and morbidity Africa has been lucky, despite shortcomings in the healthcare systems, infrastructure and expertise, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, and overcrowding. Where Africa has suffered, is the economic devastation of the pandemic.

The low mortality rate on the continent is due to its young population. It is estimated that by 2050, 2 in 5 children will be born in sub-Saharan Africa according to projection from World Economic forum.  As of today 77%, of population in Africa are below the age of 35 years. The young can be drivers of inspiration, innovation, development, and stability but in Africa they can also be drivers of instability, crime and violence.

The coronavirus has offered us an opportunity as a continent to realize the potential of our young population, but it will require collective and comprehensive action from all corners of society. It is not just the role of governments and the United Nations to bring us back from the brink. To recover from the impact of war and COVID-19 requires everyone to work together.

Let me share my story with you.

It’s hard to believe that as I stand in front of you today as a father, a husband and one of the leading pulmonologists in the country, that I was once a refugee from South Sudan, reduced to being homeless. This man you see before you – this man who was named one of the 100 most influential Africans of 2020 – once had no shelter, no food, no family, and no future. I was once dependent on humanitarian assistance, during my long journey to South Africa.

Despite the accolades I have received of late, I can never forget where I came from.

Before I reached the age of 18, I had been jailed four times, beaten by strangers, and tortured by soldiers. I had even been rejected by those that I thought I could rely on, including members of my own family. I had spent more days and nights than I can remember on the streets without food or a roof over my head. Before I turned 18, I had walked close to 6,000 kilometres from my home country in South Sudan to Eritrea, and then to Tanzania and on to Mozambique, before I finally arrived in South Africa in 1995, a month before my 18th birthday.

I arrived in Eritrea without a penny to my name, but united nation high commissioner for refugees was there to assist me with documentation and shelter. The documents united nation high commissioner for refugees provided allowed me to stay legally in Eritrea. Without them, I was a man without any formal identity, adrift like human flotsam on the ocean. Throughout my journey numerous organizations – many of whom are here today, including World Vision, Comboni missionaries and the Jesuit Refugee Services – played a significant role during my journey. Like other refugees, I was a victim of circumstance. Like other refugees, I needed your support.

What my story shows us, is that together we can make a difference in the lives of displaced people. Displaced people have the potential to be contributors to society. We can support them to realize this potential through skills development, education, access to health care – especially maternal and child health – not forgetting the basic human needs of sufficient, nutritious food, safe and clean shelter, and good sanitation and hygiene.

To make this difference, we need to work together. Governments, united nations agencies, non-governmental organization and civil society organizations should work in harmony, focused on supporting people in need.

Looking back at my own life, I think back to the time when I was destitute, a boy who spent many days and nights alone on the road, in prisons, sleeping on the streets, without any idea where my next meal would come from. Even to me, the life I have lived and the challenges that I have overcome – compared to the life I live today – sometimes feel unreal, almost like a movie. To some of you it may even seem unbelievable. But I am a proud refugee, and a product of your humanitarian work.

Today there are many destitute children, men and women who fled their homes in fear of their lives. Many of them face similar circumstances to the ones I lived through. To make matters worse, economic hardship created by the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the challenges faced by millions of ordinary people in Africa.

To provide meaningful support to displaced people in Southern Africa and beyond, humanitarian organizations should look towards finding long-term solutions, not quick fixes. When I was in Eritrea at the age of 16, I was given the option to go to a refugee camp and wait there for five years to potentially be resettled. At this time, I had no education or skills, and was painfully aware that in 5 years I would be 21, by which time I hoped to have amassed at least some education. I refused to allow my life to be decided by system and returned to the streets. This is when NGOs came to my rescue. Today, millions of displaced people in Southern Africa are sitting in refugee settlements and camps, waiting to change their lives.

Humanitarian organizations should work hand to hand, to identify the problems facing displaced people and find long-term solutions that enable people to fully integrate into society; to support people to become active and productive contributors, and independent. Skills development, access to basic education and healthcare should be at the core of humanitarian work. Without these opportunities, I would not be where I am today. 

I have recently been celebrated by medical bodies and the media for the innovations I have developed when treating critically ill COVID-19 patients through the use of therapeutic bronchoscopies. I also recently published a number one bestselling book in South Africa, entitled “The boy who never gave up”. But most importantly, my success is based on three principles, which I hope you will incorporate into the important discussions you will have during these consultations, and in your daily work.

1: Passion: Allow your passion to lead you towards your purpose and leave a positive impact on the lives of those who are in need.

2: Determination: Have the determination to find solutions and make a real and meaningful difference in people’s lives.

3: Consistency: Be consistent in your support of other people. Give your best to each person irrespective of their religion, colour, education, or gender.

Lastly, every journey must have purpose, and it is within every one of us to make our journeys worthwhile.

Thank you.

Listen to Dr. Taban's speech:

Leave a Reply