Mother calls for release of abducted UNHCR staff member

The mother of abducted UNHCR staff member John Solecki appeals to the people of Balochistan to help secure his freedom.

John Solecki with an Afghan refugee child in the Quetta sub-office.   © UNHCR/M.Farman-Farmaian

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, February 23 (UNHCR) - The mother of abducted UNHCR staff member John Solecki has appealed to the people of southern Pakistan's Balochistan province to help secure his freedom.

"To our friends in Balochistan, please help us find John and have him returned safely to his family, friends and colleagues," Rose Solecki, 83, said in an audio recording released in Pakistan over the weekend. "John has helped many people in Balochistan and now my son needs your help."

Solecki was abducted and Syed Hashim, a driver with UNHCR for 18 years, was killed as they drove on February 2 to the refugee agency's office in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan. Solecki was head of the office.

Since then, UN teams assembled in Pakistan, New York and Geneva have worked around-the-clock to try and secure the release of Solecki.

"The United Nations has been meeting with various people," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva on Friday. "We are hopeful these various initiatives will create the conditions for John Solecki's immediate and safe release," he added.

The previously unknown Balochistan Liberation United Front, which says it is holding Solecki, has demanded the release of missing people it says are in Pakistani custody. Since 2004, Baloch rebels have demanded political autonomy and a greater share of profits from the province's natural resources.

Rose Solecki, meanwhile, said she did not understand why this was happening to her son. "He loves his job, helping refugees and others in need in many difficult places in the world," she said. "I cannot begin to explain the sorrows and pain that I am going through right now.

"My husband and I are old. We want to be with John again. We cannot bear the thought of losing John," she said. The senior Solecki is 91 years old.

Despite their age, she described how they had visited their son in Quetta last year, a year after he took up the post, and were so proud of the work he was doing with both Afghan refugees and the Baloch population hosting them.

Solecki's parents are both archaeologists and Rose Solecki said bringing John and his brother Bill along while they did research in the Middle East and Asia - she had worked in Quetta 50 years ago - may be the root of his interest and respect for the different cultures and peoples in the region

"I cannot express how happy we were to have the opportunity to get to know again the people of Balochistan, this time through John," she said in the recording which was broadcast in Pakistan and reported by international media. But, John's mother said the happy memories of a year ago have now become a nightmare.

"I am appealing to the people of Balochistan for whatever support they can provide to secure my son's safety and freedom," she said. "John is a very gentle person. He loves his humanitarian work, helping the people in need together with the people of Balochistan."

The UN has been concerned about Solecki's health. "The UN is working on appropriate ways to address the concerns, including sharing information with the relevant authorities such as the newly established Federal Ministry of Human Rights," a UN statement said on Friday.