Strengthening emergency preparedness and response
With COVID-19 restrictions exacerbating existing challenges, UNHCR used hybrid and remote processing to identify and register those needing international protection. Digital and face-to-face outreach provided timely access to asylum, durable solutions, education, health and cash assistance. Volunteer outreach programmes were expanded, contributing to localization by empowering community and grassroots organizations to develop and implement targeted protection and digital inclusion projects, with technical and financial support from UNHCR. 5.2 million community members were reached, while 61,000 persons with disabilities and older persons were engaged in community-led initiatives. This included remote and life-saving support for 479,000 survivors of gender-based violence, children at risk and people with mental health and psychosocial support needs. The regional emergency roster was brought up to date. The multifaceted regional context demanded responsiveness and flexibility, and supply teams had to develop emergency stocks in volatile contexts such as Lebanon and Mauritania. Syrian civilians displaced for a protracted period in north-western Syria required substantial assistance and UNHCR raced to source, receive and trans-ship as much aid as possible before the potential expiry of UNSC Resolution 2165 closed a vital route to assist them. With a full mobilization of logistics actors, prepositioning of goods and coordination of trans-shipments, UNHCR reached 245,000 displaced Syrians with core relief item kits. In 2021, the UNHCR supply teams in the region handled 96 million core relief and non-food items, 29.7 million of which were released to people in the region, a 69% increase on 2020.
Preserving protection space and supporting access to national asylum systems and services
UNHCR newly registered over 128,000 individuals and worked to enhancing the integrity of registration procedures and address backlogs. By year-end, 6.2 million people of concern were registered, 4.8 million of them in PRIMES proGres v4, including 3.1 million individuals (5 years and above) biometrically. UNHCR’s engagement on country-of-origin information (COI) and eligibility with the European Asylum Support Office and European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), national asylum authorities, courts and legal representatives fed into COI and country guidance products developed by the EUAA and EU member States. UNHCR advocated for non-refoulement, alternatives to detention and consistent disembarkation procedures, and secured the release of 600 people of concern from detention in Libya. UNHCR maintained a regular presence at key disembarkation sites in Mauritania and Tunisia following rescues at sea. UNHCR collaborated with States and legal partners in supporting access to civil documentation, advocating for women's nationality rights and implementing strategies on statelessness prevention and reduction, including through direct support on birth registration and nationality documentation processes and support to issuing authorities. Mitigating protection risks and addressing obstacles to education by strengthening referral systems, remedial education and other assistance were key to addressing learning losses. Across the region, 303,000 children were enrolled in primary education, 134,000 in secondary education and 6,800 people of concern received tertiary education scholarships.
Ensuring protection from violence and exploitation, and providing mental health support
UNHCR made efforts to ensure the mainstreaming of gender-based violence risk mitigation measures across all sectors, within UNHCR and across the humanitarian sector, leading to an inclusion of mitigation measures in country strategies. 192,000 survivors and people at risk, including boys and men, in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Türkiye, benefited from multisectoral services through the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP). An online capacity assessment tool ensured UNHCR’s partners had the requisite organizational capacity to protect against sexual exploitation and abuse. Child protection activities were adapted to facilitate remote case management in response to COVID-19 restrictions, including through digital platforms, in coordination with child protection partners and community outreach mechanisms. Within the 3RP framework, over 140,000 girls and boys in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Türkiye benefited from specialized child protection services, while 132,000 children participated in structured child protection and psychosocial support programmes, and 45,000 women and men benefited from parenting support. Strengthening the capacity of UNHCR staff and partners in mental health and psychosocial support with evidence-based interventions such as psychological first aid remained a priority, and 147,000 people of concern to UNHCR in the 3RP countries received psychosocial support.
Achieving comprehensive solutions
After a pandemic-related slump in 2020, 2021 witnessed an improvement in resettlement submissions and departures with 33,000 refugees referred for resettlement from the region, particularly those with specific protection needs, a 43% increase from 2020. 24,000 individuals departed to resettlement countries, twice as many as in 2020. Remote processing methodologies were deployed when the pandemic impacted case processing to ensure continuity. In parallel, integrity staffing in the regional bureau and several of the larger operations was prioritized, improving system monitoring and strengthening of anti-fraud efforts. UNHCR advocated for solutions during the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement and significantly invested in complementary pathways in the region. A regional contact group set up in 2020 served as an incubator for opportunities and a conduit for ideas, forging partnerships between States, partners and other actors. Prospects for local solutions remained limited, particularly in conflict countries such as Libya and Yemen. Voluntary return remained the hope for many forcibly displaced. A survey conducted in March 2021 showed that 70% of Syrian refugees wished to go home. 36,000 Syrian refugees returned in 2021, down from 38,000 in 2020. Sustained support to host countries and assistance programmes enabled people to make free and informed decisions regarding their future. Despite worsening socioeconomic and protection situations in host countries, refugees indicated that conditions inside Syria remained the main factor driving decision-making related to return. In Iraq, UNHCR worked closely with partners, including local authorities, to promote sustainable IDP returns through small-scale infrastructure projects.
Mobilizing support through strategic partnerships
UNHCR and the World Bank developed strategic plans for Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq from 2021 to 2023. UNHCR’s Islamic Philanthropy programme was the largest income driver for private sector partnerships globally, and UNHCR’s Zakat Fund and governmental and private donors in countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council helped finance cash assistance. UNHCR reached a new demographic of supporters by teaming up with Abo Flah, a gamer and YouTube influencer. Implementation of the UNHCR-UNICEF Blueprint framework promoted the inclusion of refugee children development planning in Libya, Lebanon and Iraq. The PROSPECT partnership – which helps refugees integrate in their new country and support host communities – offered training and grants to enhance access to information and accountability mechanisms for people with specific needs. Partnerships with civil society, faith-based actors, art and culture helped UNHCR advocate for inclusion and support for refugees and host communities. Partnerships with academia provided important research on refugee inclusion, the impact of COVID-19, and climate related displacement. UNHCR and the League of Arab States signed a Plan of Action for 2021-2022 to enhance information-sharing, learning and development, advocacy and technical support. UNHCR and the Arab Interior Ministers Council organized a workshop on International Protection in Situations of Mixed Movement in the Central Mediterranean, which promoted regional cooperation. UNHCR strengthened learning and development opportunities in the region for government partners, with a focus on Arabic language to enhance protection knowledge.