Partnership with UNHCR Meets Humanitarian Needs in Yemen
The Tawasul call centers provide a critical humanitarian bridge between aid agencies and Yemen’s widely dispersed population. (Photo: A. Alsayaghi, UNHCR)

Ahmed, an operator at the Tawasul Humanitarian Call Center, took the call on March 7, 2016. The desperate caller said that as many as 900 families were trapped in various places in Yemen’s Marib governorate, which has been the scene of intense conflict for months. Attempting to flee on roads to safer locations, the estimated 5,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) had become hemmed in by fighting, airstrikes, and land mines, lacked shelter, and were running out of food, water, and basic supplies. “The caller was devastated seeing his family, relatives and other IDPs afraid of getting killed and deprived of help,” Ahmed recalls.

Tawasul staff alerted the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR then initiated coordination with other UN agencies, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in order to arrange a convoy to deliver aid to these desperate families.

This is only one of thousands of critical needs that AMIDEAST’s Tawasul staff have responded to in recent months. Today, after one year of devastating conflict, an estimated 82 percent, or 21.2 million, of Yemen’s citizens are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, as well as information. According to OCHA, 14.4 million are food insecure, and an estimated 2.5 million are now IDPs within their own country. Thousands have died, tens of thousands have been injured, and businesses have been shuttered by a conflict that has destroyed the social and community mechanisms that helped Yemen’s poorest survive in the days before the conflict.

While aid is available, and a number of both international and local organizations are working in Yemen, getting aid and information to affected communities and transmitting the needs of widely dispersed populations to aid agencies is a challenge. Funded by UNHCR, AMIDEAST’s Tawasul (“Connections”) Project plays a critical role in bridging that gap. Tawasul staff receive information about needs from IDPs and the communities hosting them, and then determine how and to whom to refer those needs. They also provide information and messaging to affected communities. Tawasul not only bridges the needs gap, it helps enshrine the UN’s goal of accountability to affected persons (AAPs) by providing them with a means to share grievances and concerns.

AMIDEAST’s Sana’a office was well positioned to take on the Tawasul project. Its youth networks, developed over decades of youth programming, have helped spread the word throughout Yemen about Tawasul and its services. AMIDEAST staff, fluent in English and Arabic, can both engage the local population and conduct reporting and data entry in English. Their familiarity with receiving large numbers of calls from scholarship and employment applicants helps them manage dozens of calls per day.

Further, with in-house expertise ranging from refugee studies to reporting and visualization, and technology and database development, AMIDEAST staff bring a unique, but necessary skill set to project management. AMIDEAST’s prescient move in 2014 to power its Sana’a office completely by solar power means that AMIDEAST is able to assure reliable and uninterrupted service delivery for the Tawasul project. Finally, AMIDEAST’s flexible and dynamic management enabled it to start operations almost immediately upon conclusion of the contract with UNHCR in December 2015 and continue to develop the project as needs dictate.

During a recent visit to Tawasul’s operations center, UNHCR Representative Johannes Van Der Klaauw said, “I'm impressed not only by this generous number of calls, but by the quality of the work at the AMIDEAST Tawasul Call Center, and by how in these three months you have identified many elements of how to communicate to people we serve. This is the best way to prioritize our support and provide us with a sounding board from people in the field."