High Commissioner António Guterres starts work at UNHCR

News Stories, 15 June 2005

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
Mr. António Guterres, UNHCR's 10th High Commissioner, assuming his duties in Geneva.

GENEVA, June 15 (UNHCR) Mr. António Guterres today started work as the 10th UN High Commissioner for Refugees by reaffirming his commitment to the protection of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people around the world.

The former Portuguese prime minister, 56, officially assumed his duties as UNHCR chief today after several weeks of familiarisation visits to the agency's headquarters in Geneva, meeting staff members, senior managers as well as UNHCR field representatives from Africa and Europe who were in Geneva for previously scheduled regional meetings.

As High Commissioner, Mr. Guterres heads a staff of 6,000 people who protect and assist more than 17 million refugees and others of concern in 115 countries. He 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 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."

Mr. Guterres 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.

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

Commenting on this year's World Refugee Day theme Courage the High Commissioner said, "Over the past five and a half decades, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has had the privilege and the responsibility of helping more than 50 million uprooted people rebuild their lives. 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."

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, during which he spearheaded the international effort to stop the atrocities in East Timor. As president of the European Council in early 2000, he 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.

The new High Commissioner is married and has 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

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

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

UNHCR: An Appeal for AfricaPlay video

UNHCR: An Appeal for Africa

The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, called for more attention and help for African nations dealing with new and old displacements.
Lebanon: UN Agency Chiefs Visit Bekaa RefugeesPlay video

Lebanon: UN Agency Chiefs Visit Bekaa Refugees

The heads of UNHCR and the UN Development Programme visited Syrian refugees and joint projects in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. High Commissioner António Guterres said that the Syria crisis had become the worst humanitarian tragedy of our times.
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."