The official has tapped into Afghanistan’s worsening situation and the Rohingya crisis.
A United Nations official has praised Qatar’s role in balancing response to humanitarian crises globally, urging international communities to follow its example.
In a special interview with Doha News this week, Indrika Ratwatte, the Director of Asia and the Pacific at the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spoke about the need to equally address major humanitarian issues of concern.
“Part of the solution [to crises] is to broaden also the base of donorship of engagement within member states as well. Qatar, for example, has been engaged over the years and I think others also could follow that example,” Ratwatte told Doha News during his visit to the Gulf state.
Ratwatte noted that “the crisis of the moment tends to suck in a lot of the attention, the resources and the political engagement.”
“It is dramatic what is happening in Ukraine, no doubt. It’s a huge amount of displacement within Ukraine and outside, which requires international action. Similarly to the year before that in 2021 in Afghanistan,” he said, using other scenarios as examples.
However, the UNHCR official stressed the need for a balanced international approach, noting that some wealthy G7 countries also do not fully contribute to alleviating the suffering “at the level that they could”.
“That’s where I think that balance is needed, because stability, prosperity in a country or the lack thereof can impact security and stability in the region and beyond, as we have seen in many crises, right from Syria to Ukraine to Afghanistan,” he said.
The double-standard approach to global issues has been highlighted by rights groups, activists and politicians. Such discussions surfaced last year in the wake of the Russian war on Ukraine, in which the west rapidly mobilised to respond to the crisis.
Officials in Qatar repeatedly stressed the need to avoid such double-standard approach, pointing to the lack of action with regards to other alarming issues, namely the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine.
“Geopolitics, national interests are important. Of course, it’s naive to say that they’re not, but when we look at humanitarian crises, keep the focus on the people and their needs,” Ratwatte added.
For years, Qatar and the UNHCR have shared what Ratwatte described as a “strategic” partnership, pointing to the contribution of entities from the Gulf state.
“The Qatari government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Qatar Fund for Development have been partners in progress, particularly in the humanitarian response for UNHCR[…]this has been an incredible journey over the years,” he said.
Dialogue in Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s worsening humanitarian crisis is of major concern to rights groups, humanitarian organisations and Qatar, which has continued its efforts in Kabul while regularly meeting with the Taliban-led government.
“I think Qatar again has steadfastly over the years been very engaged in Afghanistan, even with the republic government having dialogue with the Taliban as an important part of the peace process,” Ratwatte said.
Since the Taliban militarily captured power in 2021, the international community has appeared to step back from helping Afghanistan, despite it facing a 20-year deadly western invasion.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has only worsened since the major events, with Afghans continuing to live in poverty.
Qatar has repeatedly stressed the need to avoid isolating Afghanistan while serving as a link and platform for dialogue between the west and the Taliban after decades of war.
The Gulf state has also hosted the Taliban’s political office since 2012 and held several rounds of talks between the former Afghan government and the group.
“As we know, for any peace process in Afghanistan or otherwise, you need to talk to all the stakeholders involved in that country who are engaged in peace and stability in the country,” the UNHCR said, adding that the organisation continued its engagement with the Taliban.
Ratwatte said that he personally met with the acting government before and after the takeover, travelling between Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, along other provinces.
Throughout the meetings, the UNHCR official laid out to the Taliban the principles that govern humanitarian work, from unimpeded humanitarian access to involving the community in needs assessments.
“And I think a very important thing for all of us to remember is the Taliban is not a monolithic entity, there are different individuals of perspectives and you have to keep talking at different levels,” Ratwatte explained.
The rights of women and girls in Afghanistan have been major issues after new restrictions imposed by the Taliban. Such policies included banning women and girls from education and working at NGO’s.
Qatar had voiced its concern and disappointment over both moves at the time and urged the administration to review its decisions.
The matter was also raised in discussions between the UNHCR and the Taliban as part of their efforts to continue to advocate for the lifting of the restrictions.
“Our point to the Taliban has been ‘we understand when you say it [laws on women and girls] has to be framed within the Sharia, but look at the practices of the other Islamic republics, learn how it’s been done’,” Ratwatte said.
Similarly, Doha has repeatedly called on the caretaker Afghan government to use the examples of Muslim countries, like Qatar, where women play various roles in different sectors.
Last month, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said Doha has been reaching out to the interim government to understand the rationale behind the restrictive policies towards women and girls.
The top diplomat said Doha cannot see such policies rationalised from either a religious or cultural perspective.
Meanwhile, the Rohingya crisis continues to be an issue that appears to slip away from global media coverage, with thousands of refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries.
Rohingya in Myanmar have no legal identity nor citizenship
“I think the root causes that have led to the Rohingya issue remains still very much at play, and I think here is creating the conditions for Rohingya people to have a meaningful say and legal rights in Myanmar,” Ratwatte said.
Rohingya refugees have been fleeing violence and attacks since 2017 as part of a deadly crackdown on the Muslim population. The UN previously slammed the attacks as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Almost a million people have since taken refuge in Bangladesh with generations born in camps. According to UN figures, almost a million Rohingya live in camps in Cox’s Bazar.
“I think in particular it is the largest refugee camp in the world today. 850,000 people. It’s a city. It’s not, it’s not a village. So how does Bangladesh manage that alone if you don’t support them in a robust manner?” the UNHCR official said.
Qatar has continued to send aid to Rohingya refugees in collaboration with international agencies. In 2018, Qatar donated more than $8 million in aid to the UNHCR.
Still, the UNHCR continues to demand assistance to help Bangladesh provide a better environment for the refugees
“The joint response plan, which is the annual plan put together by the government of Bangladesh and the UN partners and NGO partners are planning the needs, has only been funded 50%, just over 50% last year,” he said.