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Refugee Influx Simulation Boosts Inter-Agency Readiness in Tajikistan

Refugee Influx Simulation Boosts Inter-Agency Readiness in Tajikistan

The Government of Tajikistan, the UN and humanitarian partners have run Tajikistan’s first-ever refugee response simulation – part of efforts to strengthen multi-agency emergency response in Tajikistan. 

UNHCR and its humanitarian partners have completed a refugee influx simulation in Tajikistan, the first time that such an exercise has involved the Government agencies, the UN organizations, and NGOs at the capital and field levels. The three-day exercise is part of continuing efforts to enhance community – region - and country-level emergency response in preparation for the possible arrivals of a large number of refugees fleeing from conflict in a neighbouring country.  

Simulation exercise

The simulation began on 10 April with an announcement of the mock decision by the Government of Tajikistan to let refugees amassing at the border to enter into Tajikistan. With that, the Refugee Contingency Plan was activated, establishing Emergency Operating Centre (EOC) in Dushanbe for emergency planning and overall coordination. An action plan was rapidly developed at EOC under the leadership of Committee on Emergency Situations and Civil Defence (CoES) of Tajikistan and UNHCR with the active participation of various UN agencies, NGOs, Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH) and Line Ministries. Simultaneously, a Provincial Coordination Center was set up in Kurgan Tyube.

On 11 April, with the arrival of the first refugees at Jalolidinni Balkhi campsite in the morning, CoES along with other state bodies and humanitarian agencies quickly moved to establish systems of border control, reception and registration.  All state and non-state actors mobilized resources and personnel to source, collect, transport relief items and erect multiple tents.  More than 120 “refugees”, played by local volunteers, were registered, screened and provided with all needed medical and social services at the campsite. The SimEx included real-time planning and coordination through online telephone and video communication between EOC in Dushanbe, the Provincial Coordination Center at Kurgan Tyube and the simulated border and refugee campsite at Jalolidinni Balkhi.

With limited information, unforeseen elements and tight deadlines woven in the scenario, it was a race against time for all the participants to deliver relief supplies to people in need, to address a dispute between different ethnic groups within the refugees, to handle constant requests for information from media, and to conduct a quick field market survey in view of increasing refugee arrivals.

The exercise also gave locals a taste of what it means to be a refugee.  “Even if this was just a simulation, you could easily feel how difficult is to be a refugee,” said Rano Djobirova, 45, one of the locals played the role of refugee. “Today I was acting in the role of a refugee and it was emotionally hard for me, I wish no person to become a refugee and may all people worldwide always live in peace and security.

Common lessons and improving coordination

On 12 April, all SimEx participants had a debriefing session in Dushanbe that attempted to summarize outcome, identify gaps in coordination and response to come up with a plan of action to improve contingency planning.

The simulation was a great success overall.  “During my professional career, I have been part of several types of simulations exercises, but this was one of the best planned and executed simulations I have ever been involved in,” said Dr. Pratibha Mehta, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Tajikistan.  “Every single step, from registration onwards was so well simulated and with required sense of urgency.”  

However there were many lessons to take away in terms of how the government actors, the UN system and NGOs work together for a refugee emergency which requires specific considerations. 

During his closing remarks Mr. Vito Trani, the UNHCR Representative in Tajikistan noted: “This Inter-Agency Simulation Exercise tested the current preparedness level for a coordinated response between the Government of Tajikistan, CoES, relevant Line ministries, UN agencies, NGOs and AKAH in case of refugee emergency influx into Tajikistan. It confirmed that only through well-coordinated response it was possible to respond to a refugee’s influx in a timely and efficient manner. While thanking all involved parties for their outstanding contribution, Mr. Trani concluded stating ‘’if we plan and train well, there is no doubt that we can respond better’’.

The SimEx was organized under the leadership of the Chairman of Committee on Emergency Situations and Civil Defence of the Republic of Tajikistan and UNHCR Representation in Tajikistan. The exercise observed the participation of around 180 officials from the Tajikistan Government and around 70 staff members from international organisations such as WFP, UNICEF, UNDP, WHO, OCHA, IOM, AKAH, UNDSS, UNRCCA, OHCHR, Tajikistan Red Crescent Society, Mercy Corps and RCVC. In addition to the primary involvement and role played by the UNHCR Representation in Tajikistan and UNHCR Regional Office in Almaty, the exercise was supported and facilitated by the UNHCR Regional Centre for Emergency Preparedness (eCentre) located in Bangkok, Thailand.