UNHCR Interview – Kelly T. Clements
Job title: UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees
You went to Bangladesh in 1992 to work with Rohingya refugees, very early in your career. Can you tell me about that?
My experience (in 1992 with UNHCR) in Cox’s Bazar is the reason that I’m sitting and talking with you today. People had come across from Myanmar in considerable numbers. It was very crowded, quite chaotic. We had near riots at some points in terms of food distribution. We had to change the system to ensure that the most vulnerable were, in fact, getting fed. I remember people standing for hours in the sun, with black umbrellas. It was overwhelming at times.
Is there one conversation you had back then that you can’t get out of your head?
There was one family, a woman with three or four very young children. In the melee, she had lost her food ration card. And she had not been able to feed her kids for over two weeks. She was in tears when we talked. It took a long time but we were able to get her another card. Going back on a repeat visit, she heard I was in the camp and she came and found me. I remember her face quite vividly. She had tears and she said, “These are tears of joy.” And she said, “I’m not sure what I would have done without UNHCR.” #PressForParity