• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

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

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

Switzerland: Kuwait Donates US$ 100 Million to the Syria CrisisPlay video

Switzerland: Kuwait Donates US$ 100 Million to the Syria Crisis

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees welcomes the State of Kuwait's contribution of US$ 100 million to support UNHCR operations aiding Syrians.
UNHCR Geneva: Executive Committee 2012Play video

UNHCR Geneva: Executive Committee 2012

Refugee agency chief António Guterres opens annual ExCom meeting with warning that UNHCR being stretched by multiplication of new refugee crises.