Saudi Red Crescent chief visits UNHCR

News Stories, 26 November 2007

© UNHCR/H.Caux
High Commissioner António Guterres (right) welcomes His Royal Highness Prince Faisal bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, president of the Saudi Red Crescent Society.

GENEVA, Switzerland, November 26 (UNHCR) Prince Faisal bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, president of the Saudi Red Crescent Society, has spent two days in Geneva getting to know more about UNHCR's work around the world and further strengthening ties with the refugee agency.

Prince Faisal held talks on his arrival with UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and was then given an overview on the refugee situation in North Africa and the Middle East as well as a briefing on the issue of mixed migration from Africa to Europe across the Mediterranean and from Africa to the Arabian Peninsula across the Gulf of Aden.

He also heard about other operations around the world during meetings with the Geneva-based directors of UNHCR's regional bureaux. Prince Faisal also attended a presentation on the history and development of UNHCR as well as its current role and cooperation with other UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and national Red Cross and Red Crescent movements.

Prince Faisal acknowledged the vital role played by UNHCR and the daunting tasks faced by its staff in operations worldwide. "Whenever I watch the news, I note the complexity of the UN's role, and UNHCR's work in particular. With today's problems, UNHCR's added value is more relevant than ever," he told Guterres.

The royal visitor also held talks on the basic principles of international refugee law and UNHCR's protection mandate, impressing refugee officials in Geneva with his keen interest in finding political, as well as humanitarian, solutions for refugee situations across the globe. He was also a firm advocate of looking to the future. "I would like to see people move away from dependency, and more toward self-reliance," Prince Faisal said.

"I was very much impressed by the pointed nature of the questions asked [by Prince Faisal], which reflected a clear commitment to make a difference and to move forward in our joint humanitarian efforts," said Ursula Aboubacar, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa bureau. "We now have to follow up on all the initiatives discussed and continue to reinforce our relation with this important partner."

The prince was making his second visit to UNHCR's Geneva base this year. In April, he and High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at strengthening cooperation on joint implementation of humanitarian projects and envisaging joint training programmes in relation to emergency preparedness and capacity-building.

"The visit was unique in the sense that it encompassed consultations on high-level policy issues as well as discussions on operational matters meant to enhance the strategic partnership between UNHCR and the Saudi Red Crescent Society. This will definitely help us to achieve our common humanitarian objectives," said Ahmed Gubartalla, UNHCR's Riyadh-based regional representative.

Strengthening the partnership with the Saudi Red Crescent Society is one of the main pillars of the High Commissioner's multifaceted strategy for the Middle East and North Africa in general, and the Persian Gulf region in particular.

The strategy includes reaching out to a more diverse range of civil society institutions; training and building the capacity of governmental bodies; and raising public awareness about refugee issues in the region and beyond.

By Shaden Khallaf in Geneva

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