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.




The High Commissioner

Filippo Grandi, who took office on January 1 2016, is the UN refugee agency's 11th 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

Hopes, fears and the way forwardPlay video

Hopes, fears and the way forward

António Guterres, who served as UN High Commissioner for Refugees from June 2005 to December 2015, reflects on the dramatic acceleration of displacement around the world and calls for a surge in diplomacy for peace in an interview with his chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming.
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

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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.