UNHCR staff celebrate release of John Solecki, mourn slain colleague

News Stories, 6 April 2009

© UNHCR/M.Farman-Farmaian
Free at Last: John Solecki at work in Pakistan before his two-month abduction ordeal.

GENEVA, April 6 (UNHCR) UNHCR staff worldwide on Monday welcomed the safe return of John Solecki, the refugee agency's head of office in Quetta, Pakistan, who was released from two months of captivity over the weekend.

"It is a very happy day," High Commissioner António Guterres told hundreds of staff gathered in UNHCR's Geneva headquarters Monday morning. "We were all ecstatic the day before yesterday when the news came and when finally I must say, it was one of the best days of my life I could speak to him late Saturday."

Guterres said his Saturday night phone call with Solecki convinced him that he had endured his ordeal "with lots of courage and determination and that we can all be very proud of him. And I think the same can be said about his family."

Solecki was abducted and veteran UNHCR driver Syed Hashim was killed on February 2 as they drove to the office in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. The abductors said they were from the previously unknown Baloch Liberation United Front.

Following a message from the abductors, Solecki, 49, was located Saturday night in Khadkhutcha, some 50 kilometres south of Quetta. He was flown out of Pakistan on Sunday and is now undergoing medical examination before flying to the United States to see his family.

"This would probably not have been possible without the extraordinary work, intelligence, commitment and courage of both our team in Pakistan and our team in Geneva," Guterres said to loud applause from staff lining the balconies of UNHCR's seven-storey headquarters atrium. "I hope John will be able to join us soon, and it will be a great moment for all of us."

Despite the relief over Solecki's freedom, Guterres said UNHCR staff are mourning the loss of Syed Hashim, a 17-year veteran of the agency who died during the abduction, leaving behind a wife and four children. A minute's silence was held in remembrance of Hashim.

The High Commissioner also expressed concern over the increasing dangers faced by aid workers and called for respect for the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence.

"It is important that in this moment of celebration we do not forget other colleagues in these dramatic circumstances," he said in a reference to other UN, International Committee of the Red Cross and NGO staff still being held around the world. Two international staff from the French non-governmental organization, Aide Médicale Internationale, were kidnapped in Sudan's Darfur region over the weekend.

"We need to make sure that these kinds of events do not go on multiplying in a way that is representing a major threat to the humanitarian community, narrowing our humanitarian space and a major concern for all of us."

He said it was essential that UN humanitarians always be perceived as honest brokers and independent actors, but "this is not an easy thing."

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Pakistan: Fleeing to Safety

More than 1.5 million people flee their homes in North-West Pakistan.

Fighting between the army and Taliban militants in and around the Swat Valley in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province has displaced more than 1.5 million people since the beginning of May. Some of the displaced are being sheltered in camps set up by the government and supplied by UNHCR. Others - the majority, in fact - are staying in public buildings, such as schools, or with friends and extended family members. Living conditions are harsh. With the onset of summer, rising temperatures are contributing to a range of ailments, especially for villagers from Swat accustomed to a cooler climate. Pakistan's displacement crisis has triggered an outpouring of generosity at home. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is urging a "massive" assistance effort from abroad as well.

Pakistan: Fleeing to Safety

Photo Essay: Documenting the floods in Pakistan

Photojournalist Alixandra Fazzina, winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award among other commendations, is on the ground in Pakistan.

Photo Essay: Documenting the floods in Pakistan

2010 Pakistan flood emergency

Torrential rains and flash floods have affected around a million people in parts of southwest and northwestern Pakistan. More than one thousand people lost their lives when water inundated their homes in the past week. Though monsoon rains are nothing new for Pakistanis, it rained more than expected, washing away homes, roads and other basic infrastructure, creating the worst flood disaster in the country's history. UNHCR launched a relief response to support the authorities to help people affected by the flood. The local relief authorities in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces have started distribution of UNHCR-provided tents and other relief items. More relief items are on the way.

2010 Pakistan flood emergency

Sweden: Mahmoud's EscapePlay video

Sweden: Mahmoud's Escape

Mahmoud was one of more than 300,000 Syrian refugees who have sought safety in Egypt since the conflict in his homeland began three years ago. The nine-year-old was so desperate to attend school that he risked his life to get to Europe. He was stopped and sent back to Egypt but is now making a fresh start in Sweden.
UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR  and CameroonPlay video

UNHCR's Dr. Paul Spiegel on the Border of CAR and Cameroon

This video was shot by one of our staff* using a mobile phone as they helped refugees who had crossed the river to safety.
Jordan: Beyond No Man's LandPlay video

Jordan: Beyond No Man's Land

In a remote area of north-east Jordan, hundreds of Syrian refugees arrive at an unofficial border point after walking for days and crossing a stretch of no man's land to reach safety.