CEOs, UN Secretary-General join UNHCR chief in Davos Refugee Run

News Stories, 30 January 2009

© Global Hand/T.Williams
VIP Tour: A simulated refugee camp classroom with some high-profile "students" in the back row. From left to right: High Commissioner Guterres, UN humanitarian chief Sir John Holmes, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

DAVOS, Switzerland, January 30 (UNHCR) There's a saying among African refugees that you can't understand a man unless you walk a mile in his shoes. This week, some of the world's top business leaders decided to join UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN refugee agency chief, António Guterres, and test out this theory.

They may not have walked a mile, but corporate bigshots such as Virgin Group Chairman Sir Richard Branson, Gucci Group Chief Executive Robert Polet and Nike CEO Mike Parker took a break from their hectic schedules at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos and briefly put themselves in the shoes of a refugee.

For an hour, they experienced a tiny bit of what life is like for the millions of people forcibly uprooted from their homes by persecution, warfare or natural disaster. The VIPs were able to share this suffering thanks to an exhibit, "Refugee Run," put together by UNHCR, some of its partners in the business and humanitarian aid worlds, and refugees themselves.

Scenarios included fleeing a rebel attack, navigating a minefield, dealing with corrupt border guards, struggling with language, surviving on the black market and living in a refugee camp. The ultimate aim is to raise awareness among some of the world's most influential people about the plight of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) and to seek funds for UNHCR operations worldwide to help them.

After taking part in the Refugee Run on Thursday, second day of the four-day summit between political and business leaders, UN Secretary-General Ban described it as "a profound experience that reminds us of the plight of millions of forcibly displaced people." Branson simply said, "Beautifully done."

The exhibit received a seal of approval from a genuine refugee, Raphael Mwandu from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "The things you see in this simulation are the same as those in the camps," he said, adding that it would help let people "know what is going on in our world so that they can meet together and find solutions."

The Refugee Run is also a reminder that in the current economic climate, the world's deprived should not be forgotten. UNHCR relies on funding from governments and the private sector for its annual budget the target for this year is just under US$2 billion.

"The international community must rescue lives with the same determination they are saving banks," declared High Commissioner Guterres, who gamely took part in Refugee Run with his boss, Secretary-General Ban.

UNHCR co-organized the Refugee Run with the Global Risk Forum Davos and with Crossroads Foundation, a Hong Kong-based non-governmental organization that links the corporate world with humanitarian aid agencies to address global challenges. The UN refugee agency also received funding support from KPMG and from its Council of Business Leaders, which gathers Manpower, Microsoft, Nike, PricewaterhouseCoopers and WPP.

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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.

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

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: 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

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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."