Emmanuel Uwurukundo is a true humanitarian – “a person who seeks to promote human welfare.”  Uwurukundo survived the Rwandan genocide, but lost his entire family, including his mother and father.  Rather than seek violent revenge against those responsible for the deaths of his loved ones, Uwurukundo made a conscience decision to choose humanity over violence.

Uwurukundo runs 3 of the largest refugee camps in eastern Chad, serving over 57,000 of the world’s most vulnerable individuals. His desire to help comes from his determination to end cycles of violence.  Uwurukundo hopes his work in the camps demonstrate the power of individual choice, proving there are alternatives to violence, even for those who are victims of the most horrific crimes.

Uwurukundo summarizes his actions and desires best: “when you are a survivor of something like this, you have two choices. Either you come to the conclusion that life is meaningless, and for all intents and purposes, you are dead to the world, without hope. Or you think, if I am still alive, there must be a reason for it. There must be something that I can do with my experiences to make things better.”

The History and Work of UNHCR

The United Nations General Assembly established the UNHCR on December 14,1950, in response to the massive internal displacement and refugee crises following the Second World War.  This led to the adoption of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the first widely-accepted international document which defined the term “refugee” and established provisions for relief.

Though its original mandate limited UNHCR’s lifespan to three years, the United Nations is continually extending it.  Since the 1956 Hungarian Revolution the number of displaced people around the world has steadily increased. UNHCR has now been in operation for over 60 years.   As recently as December 2003, the General Assembly extended UNHCR’s mandate “until the refugee problem [is] solved.”

UNHCR won the 1954 Nobel Peace Prize for its substantial work with European refugees and the 1981 Nobel Peace Prize for its worldwide assistance to refugees. UNHCR originally had 34 staff members.  Today over 7,685 staff members work in national and international offices. The agency is active in over 126 countries and deals with 33.9 million people of concern.

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