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.

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.