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Refugees Magazine Issue 104 (UNHCR's World) - Geneva Headquarters: Meanwhile, back at headquarters ...

Refugees Magazine, 1 June 1996

High Commissioner Sadako Ogata oversees UNHCR's worldwide operations from a headquarters that is very field-oriented.

High Commissioner Sadako Ogata is often asked what personal traits are required to lead a worldwide humanitarian agency responsible for protecting and assisting millions of often desperate people.

"A warm heart and a cool mind," replies Mrs. Ogata, a former Japanese diplomat and academic who was recently described by one writer as "chief surgeon in the world's emergency room."

Her response reflects the philosophy of an organization that must be compassionate and refugee-focused while at the same time confronting the cold, hard realities of war, massive displacement, "ethnic cleansing," closed borders, growing xenophobia and shrinking resources.

From her modest seventh-floor office in UNHCR's Geneva headquarters, Mrs. Ogata oversees the activities of more than 5,000 staff in some 250 offices in 120 countries. About 950 of those staffers work in Geneva. Their tasks range from all of the basic functions required for the smooth operation of any large corporation, to highly specialized skills needed by camp planners, epidemiologists, water engineers and nutritionists. They include secretaries; lawyers and refugee law specialists; medical personnel; resettlement officers; accountants and finance officers; fund-raising staff; personnel officers; communications and computer specialists; statisticians and archivists; travel and visa staff; logistics, transport and procurement officers; food aid coordinators; specialists on the environment and women and children refugees; administrative officers; programme and budget specialists; field security officers; programme coordinators; public information staff; emergency response teams; distribution specialists; desk officers for UNHCR activities in every region of the world, and many others.

Although the paper flow is enormous and days are filled with meetings, reports and phone calls, UNHCR headquarters staff do not generally fit the widely held stereotype of the desk-bound U.N. bureaucrat. Most have extensive field experience. And for most professional staff, a stint in Geneva lasts no longer than four years, when they once again "rotate" to a field post. At heart and in mind, Geneva staffers are very much field-oriented.

The same applies to Mrs. Ogata, who prefers to re-direct any praise of her leadership to the thousands of UNHCR staff serving in many of the world's most remote and dangerous places. "I'm often asked how I can cope with the enormous human suffering that we must deal with," Mrs. Ogata says. "Of course it's depressing, but the ones who really face it head-on and who deserve most of the credit are those people who are out there on the ground doing whatever they can to help refugees. Theirs is not an easy life. It's not me I'm worried about, it's them."

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 104 (1996)




UNHCR country pages

2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the Colombian women's rights group, Butterflies with New Wings Building a Future, with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday night.

The volunteer members of Butterflies risk their lives each day to help survivors of forced displacement and sexual abuse in the Pacific Coast city of Buenaventura. This city has some of the highest rates of violence and displacement due to escalating rivalries between illegal armed groups.

Drawing on only the most modest of resources, volunteers cautiously move through the most dangerous neighbourhoods to help women access medical care and report crimes. This work, deep inside the communities, helps them reach the most vulnerable women, but also brings with it danger and threats from the illegal armed groups.

The Award ceremony, in its 60th year, was held in Geneva's Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, and featured musical performances by UNHCR supporters, Swedish-Lebanese singer-songwriter Maher Zain and Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré. The Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela also performed at the ceremony.

2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented Sister Angélique Namaika of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award at a gala ceremony in Geneva on Monday night.

Sister Angélique, through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, has helped transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who had been forced from their homes and abused by fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) or other armed groups. Many of those she helps suffered abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape or other human rights abuses.

The Roman Catholic nun helps survivors to heal by offering them the chance to learn a trade, start a small business or go to school. Testimonies from these women show the remarkable effect she has had on helping turn around their lives, with many affectionately calling her "mother."

The Award ceremony featured a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam.

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

More than 400 people attended the annual presentation in Geneva in October 1, 2012 of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award. This year's inspirational winner from Somalia, Hawa Aden Mohamed, was unable to attend for health reasons, but she sent a video message. In the former refugee's absence, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the award and Nansen medal to her sister, Shukri Aden Mohamed.

The 63-year-old humanitarian, educator and women's rights advocate, widely known as "Mama" Hawa, was honoured for her extraordinary service - under extremely difficult conditions - on behalf of refugees and the internally displaced, mainly women and girls but also including boys.

Above all she has been recognized for her work - as founder and director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development in Somalia's Puntland region - in helping to empower thousands of displaced Somali women and girls, many of whom are victims of rape. The centre provides secondary education as well as life skills training.

The packed event also included an address by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, and a video tribute to Mama Hawa as well as performances from UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador and classical singer, Barbara Hendricks, and up and coming Swiss musician Bastian Baker.

Nansen Refugee Award Presentation Ceremony

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