UNHCR's John Solecki freed and on his way home

News Stories, 5 April 2009

© UNHCR/M.Farman-Farmaian
UNHCR's John Solecki (right) pictured before his abduction.

GENEVA, April 5 (UNHCR) John Solecki, the head of the UNHCR office in the Pakistani city of Quetta, was released on Saturday night more than two months after he was abducted and has left Pakistan to be reunited as soon as possible with his family in the United States.

Solecki, 49, was abducted and veteran UNHCR driver Syed Hashim was killed on 2 February as they drove to their Quetta office in the provincial capital of Balochistan.

He was located Saturday evening by Pakistani authorities in Khadkhutcha, some 50 km south of Quetta. He was tired, but seemed otherwise unharmed. He was taken immediately to Combined Military Hospital in Quetta, where he got a check-up and spent the night before leaving Pakistan on Sunday morning.

High Commissioner António Guterres spoke by phone with Solecki shortly after he was found. Guterres expressed gratitude for Solecki's safe recovery and noted that all UNHCR staff felt a huge sense of relief.

"I and all of my UNHCR colleagues worldwide are extremely relieved to learn of the safe release of John Solecki after more than two months in captivity," Guterres said in a statement Saturday night. "We are especially happy for John's family and friends who have been so supportive during this difficult ordeal."

John spoke with his family, who had been in daily contact with UNHCR throughout the ordeal, on Saturday night and again on Sunday morning.

"I am particularly grateful to everyone who has worked so hard to secure John's release, including UN and UNHCR security staff, Balochi leaders who have provided consistent support, and the Pakistani authorities," Guterres said.

In Paris, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed gratification at Solecki's safe release.

UN officials had worked around the clock seeking Solecki's release. Anyone who could help was contacted, including Pakistani government leaders and senior Balochi figures. The UN publicly thanked them for their assistance after the release.

In Quetta on Sunday morning, Solecki was handed over from the care of the United Nations to the care of his embassy, and he left on a special medical flight.

Solecki, who was held for 61 days, had worked for the past two years in Balochistan, helping both Afghan refugees, the communities hosting them and local people affected by floods and earthquakes.

"UNHCR looks forward to continuing its humanitarian efforts in Pakistan as part of the United Nations team working on behalf of all of the people," High Commissioner Guterres said.

The abductors said they were from the previously unknown Baloch Liberation United Front.

There are about 400,000 refugees registered in Balochistan, living in refugee villages as well as urban areas. In addition to the Quetta sub-office, UNHCR has two field offices in Balochistan. The refugee agency has its main office in Pakistan in Islamabad, with another sub-office in Peshawar overseeing other field offices. UNHCR has around 205 staff in Pakistan, 37 of them international and the rest national staff.

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