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.

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The High Commissioner

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

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

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

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat campPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat camp

Concluding a visit to Iraq, UNHCR chief António Guterres met with Syrian refugees in Arbat camp in the Kurdistan region. Guterres noted the recent proliferation of humanitarian crises, but urged the international community not to forget about Syria, "the mega protracted crisis of our times."
Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced IraqisPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced Iraqis

This week UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is visiting Iraq to meet with families displaced by conflict in recent weeks. After listening to accounts of their difficult journeys to safety, Guterres called for more support to help deal with the crisis. He will also visit some of the 300,000 Syrian refugees currently living in camps in northern Iraq.
Jordan: UNHCR and Host Countries Discuss SyriaPlay video

Jordan: UNHCR and Host Countries Discuss Syria

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres meets in Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp with leaders of countries hosting Syrian refugees in the region. He again urged the international community to do more to help these countries shoulder the burden.