UNHCR mourns loss of staff member killed in Pakistan bombing

UNHCR staff mourn their colleague, Aleksandar Vorkapic, who was killed in the bombing of the Pearl Continental Hotel in the Pakistani city of Peshawar.

UNHCR staff in Geneva hold a minute's silence for their slain colleague, Aleksandar Vorkapic.  © UNHCR/S.Hopper

GENEVA, June 10 (UNHCR) - UN refugee agency staff were in mourning on Wednesday for their colleague, Aleksandar Vorkapic, who was killed overnight in the bombing of the Pearl Continental Hotel in the north-west Pakistan city of Peshawar.

"Aleksandar Vorkapic had volunteered for UNHCR's emergency roster and was deployed last month, along with a team of other specialists, to help the hundreds of thousands of civilians recently displaced in north-west Pakistan," UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said at UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

"He was on his first emergency mission and he gave his life serving others. All of us at UNHCR are devastated by this tragedy and we convey our deepest condolences to his family in Belgrade," added Guterres, who also said no cause could justify the killing of Vorkapic and others caught in the blast.

Vorkapic, a Serbian national, leaves behind a wife and three children. He had worked as an information technology specialist in UNHCR's office in Belgrade since 2000. A message from Vorkapic's colleagues in the UNHCR Belgrade office said they were "devastated at his senseless loss." UNHCR staff marked a minute's silence in Geneva headquarters on Wednesday morning in his memory.

News reports on Wednesday morning said Tuesday night's blast killed at least 18 people, including a UNICEF staff member, and injured more than 50 in the Pearl Continental Hotel.

Aleksandar Vorkapic  © UNHCR

High Commissioner Guterres joined UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in condemning the attack. "Humanitarian workers around the world are coming under increasing attack and it is the poor, the uprooted and the vulnerable who will suffer the most by their loss," Guterres said.

"Aleksandar Vorkapic was the second UNHCR staff member to be killed in less than five months in Pakistan, where hundreds of thousands of people depend on UNHCR assistance. Now, once again, we are forced to ask ourselves how we can meet their urgent needs while ensuring the safety of our own humanitarian staff. It is a truly terrible dilemma," the High Commissioner added.

On February 2, UNHCR staff member Syed Hashim was shot and killed in an attack in Quetta which also resulted in the abduction of the refugee agency's head of office in the southern Pakistan city. Head of office John Solecki was released after two months.