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."




UNHCR country pages

Related Internet Links

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

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

With winter fast approaching and well over a million people reported homeless in quake-stricken Pakistan, UNHCR and its partners are speeding up the delivery and distribution of hundreds of tonnes of tents, blankets and other relief supplies from around the world.

In all, the NATO-UNHCR airlift, which began on 19 October, will deliver a total of 860 tonnes of supplies from our stockpiles in Iskenderun, Turkey. Separately, by 25 October, UNHCR-chartered aircraft had so far delivered 14 planeloads of supplies to Pakistan from the agency's stocks in Copenhagen, Dubai and Jordan.

On the ground, UNHCR is continuing to distribute aid supplies in the affected areas to help meet some of the massive needs of an estimated 3 million people.

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

The UN refugee agency is providing hundreds of tonnes of urgently needed relief supplies for victims in northern Pakistan. UNHCR is sending family tents, hospital tents, plastic sheeting, mattresses, kitchen sets, blankets and other items from its global stockpiles. Within a few days of the earthquake, just as its substantial local stocks were all but exhausted, UNHCR began a series of major airlifts from its warehouses around the world, including those in Denmark, Dubai, Jordan and Turkey.

UNHCR does not normally respond to natural disasters, but it quickly joined the UN humanitarian effort because of the sheer scale of the destruction, because the quake affected thousands of Afghan refugees, and because the agency has been operational in Pakistan for more than two decades. North West Frontier Province (NWFP), one of the regions most severely affected by the quake, hosts 887,000 Afghan refugees in camps.

While refugees remain the main focus of UNHCR's concern, the agency is integrated into the coordinated UN emergency response to help quake victims.

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

Pakistan Earthquake: Major push to Bring in Aid before Winter

With the snow line dropping daily, the race to get relief supplies into remote mountain areas of Pakistani-administered Kashmir intensifies. In a major push to bring aid to the people in the Leepa Valley, heavy-lift Chinook helicopters from the British Royal Air force airlifted in 240 tonnes of UNHCR emergency supplies, including tents, plastic sheeting, stoves, and kitchen sets.

At lower elevations, UNHCR and its partners have dispatched emergency teams to camps to train members of the Pakistani military in site planning, camp management, winterization and the importance of water and sanitation – all crucial to containing disease during the long winter ahead.

By mid-November, UNHCR had provided a total of 19,356 tents, 152,325 blankets, 71,395 plastic sheets and tens of thousands of jerry cans, kitchen sets and other supplies. More of the agency's supplies are continuing to arrive in Pakistan on various airlifts, including a 103-flight joint NATO/UNHCR airlift from Turkey. Other UNHCR airlifts have brought in supplies from the agency's warehouses in Jordan, Dubai and Denmark.

Pakistan Earthquake: Major push to Bring in Aid before Winter

Malta: Dying at Europe's DoorstepPlay video

Malta: Dying at Europe's Doorstep

Angelina Jolie, our Special Envoy, travelled to Malta and met three people who risked everything to reach safety.
Uganda: A Father's TroublesPlay video

Uganda: A Father's Troubles

Forty-five-year-old Gabriel fled South Sudan with his wife and children to find safety in the UN compound in Bor. But, in April 2014, his wife was killed when an armed mob forced their way in, and now he is a single father to five children, seeking a better life in Uganda.
Ethiopia: Far From Home Play video

Ethiopia: Far From Home

Nyabuka Lam arrived in Pagak, Ethiopia in September after escaping armed men who shot her three children and husband back in her home country, South Sudan. After walking for 15 days to reach the safety of Pagak, she is now finally on a path to recovery.