High Commissioner António Guterres begins UNHCR duties

Press Releases, 15 June 2005

15 June 2005

GENEVA Declaring firm support for the core values of international refugee protection, Mr. António Guterres officially assumed his duties Wednesday as the 10th United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The former Portuguese Prime Minister arrived early at UNHCR's Geneva headquarters for his first official day as head of the 54-year-old humanitarian agency, whose 6,000 staff protect and assist more than 17 million refugees and others of concern in 115 countries.

In a series of familiarisation visits to UNHCR headquarters over the past few weeks, Mr. Guterres has already met with many Geneva-based staff and senior managers, as well as the agency's field representatives from Africa and Europe who were in Switzerland for previously scheduled regional meetings.

Mr. Guterres is planning his first field mission, to Uganda, next week. His mission will coincide with the annual World Refugee Day on Monday, June 20. He will spend the day with refugees in a camp in northern Uganda.

In a message released Wednesday, Mr. Guterres noted that the theme of this year's World Refugee Day "Courage" was especially appropriate.

"Over the past five and a half decades, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has had the privilege and the responsibility of helping more than 50 million uprooted people rebuild their lives," he said. "Throughout UNHCR's proud history, we have been constantly inspired by the incredible courage of the refugees we help and protect. While every refugee's story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives."

Mr. Guterres was nominated for the position on May 24 by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and formally elected three days later by the UN General Assembly to a five-year term. He succeeds former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, who served as UNHCR's head from January 2001 until February of this year.

Mr. Guterres, 56, told refugee agency staff that he had assured Mr. Annan that he would be "firm in asserting the core values of the office and that refugees and states alike should expect a principled, effective and committed UNHCR."

"My conviction is strong," he said. "I believe the millions of people women, children, and other vulnerables who depend on us for protection should expect nothing less from the High Commissioner for Refugees."

The new High Commissioner noted that finding safety in today's world was becoming increasingly difficult. While developing countries least able to afford it host most of the world's refugees, many industrialised nations continue to impose ever stricter controls on asylum.

"All of us bear a responsibility for ensuring that those genuinely in need of international protection receive it," he said, adding that more also needs to be done for the estimated 20-25 million internally displaced people who are uprooted within the borders of their own countries.

Before joining UNHCR, Mr. Guterres spent more than 20 years in government and public service. He served as the Portuguese prime minister from 1996 to 2002, and as president of the European Council in early 2000, co-chaired the first EU-Africa summit and led to the adoption of the so-called Lisbon Agenda. He founded the Portuguese Refugee Council in 1991, and was part of the Council of State of Portugal from 1991 to 2002.

From 1981 to 1983, Mr. Guterres was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, as well as chairman of the Committee on Demography, Migrations and Refugees.

Mr. Guterres was born on April 30, 1949, in Lisbon. He is married with two children.




UNHCR country pages

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presents the Nansen medal to Afghan refugee, Aqeela Asifi in Geneva, Switzerland.

Asifi, 49, has dedicated her life to bringing education to refugee girls in Pakistan. Despite minimal resources and significant cultural challenges, Asifi - a former teacher who fled from Kabul with her family in 1992 - has guided over a thousand refugee girls through primary education in the Kot Chandana refugee village in Mianwali, Pakistan.

Before she arrived, strict cultural traditions kept most girls at home. But she was determined to give these girls a chance and began teaching just a handful of pupils in a makeshift school tent.

UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award honours extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced, and names Eleanor Roosevelt, Graça Machel and Luciano Pavarotti among its laureates. Speakers and performers at today's award ceremony include UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Ger Duany, Unicef Goodwill Ambassador and singer Angelique Kidjo and visual artist Cedric Cassimo.

Afghanistan is the largest, most protracted refugee crisis in the world. Over 2.6 million Afghans currently live in exile and over half of them are children.

2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Cameroon in late March to put a spotlight on the situation there of tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria. These people have escaped mounting violence by insurgents in the north-east of their country. Among the places that Guterres visited during his March 24-25 visit is the Minawao Refugee Camp, where many of the uprooted have been relocated.

Situated some 120 kilometres from the dangerous border area with Nigeria in Cameroon's Far North region, Minawao camp is currently home to 33,000 Nigerian refugees, mainly from Borno state. Many of the arrivals are traumatized and in need of material and psycho-social help. They told the High Commissioner of losing their homes and belongings as well as members of their families. Some were injured. In total, an estimated 74,000 Nigerians have found refuge in Cameroon while cross-border incursions from Nigeria have displaced 96,000 Cameroonians. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux also visited Minawao to hear the individual stories.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

On 1 August, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres travelled to northern Burkina Faso with the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BRPM), Anne Richard. In Damba camp, they met with Malian refugees who had fled northern Mali in the past six months to escape the ongoing conflict and political instability. To date, more than 250,000 Malian refugees have fled their homes and found refuge in neighbouring countries, including 107,000 in Burkina Faso alone. The UN refugee agency has only received one-third of the US$153 million it needs to provide life-saving assistance such as shelter, water, sanitation, health services, nutrition and protection to the refugees. UNHCR fears that the volatile political and humanitarian situation in Mali could lead to further outflows to neighbouring countries.

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

High Commissioner Guterres Remarks on the resettlement of Refugees from Bhutan in NepalPlay video

High Commissioner Guterres Remarks on the resettlement of Refugees from Bhutan in Nepal

The UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) marked a major milestone: the resettlement of over 100,000 refugees from Bhutan in Nepal to third countries since the launch of the programme in 2007.
Turkey: World Refugee Day visitsPlay video

Turkey: World Refugee Day visits

On World Refugee Day the UNHCR High Commissioner, António Guterres, along with Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, travelled to southeastern Turkey, the home of hundreds of thousands of refugees from conflicts in Syria and Iraq. They were in the midyat refugee camp to see conditions for these people and to issue a warning to the world.
Kuwait donating money to UNHCRPlay video

Kuwait donating money to UNHCR

Kuwait has donated just over US$120 million to the UN refugee agency to assist its efforts in dealing with the humanitarian situation resulting from the crisis in Syria. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warmly thanked and praised the government of Kuwait and its people for the extreme generosity when he received a cheque for the amount at a ceremony on Wednesday evening in Geneva.