UNHCR condemns killing of veteran Pakistani staff member

News Stories, 16 July 2009

© UNHCR/H.Caux
Zill-e Usman shows High Commissioner António Guterres around Katcha Gari, where he was killed, earlier this year.

GENEVA, July 16 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Thursday condemned the killing earlier in the day of a veteran staff member in Pakistan in a camp for displaced people as an "outrage."

High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres mourned the murder earlier in the day of widely respected Programme Assistant Zill-e Usman, who was shot by unidentified gunmen in the Katcha Gari camp on the border of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province.

He was the third UNHCR staff member to be killed in Pakistan this year and his death raises fundamental questions about the future of UNHCR's operation in Pakistan, where it has been helping tens of thousands of civilians displaced by violence in the north-west since early May.

Another UNHCR staff member was injured in Wednesday's incident but is in stable condition in a nearby hospital. A guard working with the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees, a government-funded agency, was also killed. Four to five gunmen reportedly opened fire on Usman as he was walking back from the camp administrative office to his car during a routine visit to the site.

"Our deepest condolences to the family of Zill-e Usman," said Guterres, noting that the 59-year-old leaves behind a wife and four children. "There is no justification for attacks on humanitarian workers dedicated to the protection and care of the most vulnerable people," he added. Guterres called on armed groups of all descriptions to cease attacks on humanitarian workers whose mission is to provide protection and assistance to the needy.

In Geneva, Deputy High Commissioner L. Craig Johnstone told staff gathered for a minute of silence that the killing of Usman "really is an outrage and a tragedy that affects us all. We are talking here of a man who was a pillar of UNHCR within Pakistan, a pillar of his community, a person of universal respect."

Johnstone said UNHCR would be looking at the shooting in detail to see what more needs to be done to allow the refugee agency to continue its work in safety. "We obviously need to do everything we can to protect our people."

Karim Amer, speaking in Geneva on behalf of UNHCR's Staff Council, said the death of three staff members in one operation in such a short time span was "unimaginable." He said UNHCR needed to look closely at its Pakistan operation.

On June 9, Aleksandar Vorkapic died in the bombing of the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar; on February 2, Syed Hashim, UNHCR senior driver, was killed in the kidnapping of John Solecki, head of the Quetta office, who was later released.

Usman, who was due to retire later this year, was one of UNHCR's most senior national staff members in Pakistan. He joined UNHCR's Peshawar office in 1984. At the time of the incident, he was working on the repatriation of people displaced by a conflict in Pakistan's tribal areas that broke out in August last year.

UNHCR is providing assistance to some 2 million people displaced by more recent fighting in regions surrounding the Swat Valley. "It is unacceptable that humanitarian workers doing such vital and selfless work are attacked in this way," said High Commissioner Guterres. "We urge all armed groups to show respect for their countrymen and for innocent civilians as well as for the humanitarian workers who are providing life-saving assistance."




UNHCR country pages

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

Pakistan: Returning HomePlay video

Pakistan: Returning Home

Since the beginning of November, UNHCR has been offering an enhanced package to every registered refugee in Pakistan choosing to go home to Afghanistan.
Pakistan: Helping the HostsPlay video

Pakistan: Helping the Hosts

Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan's Balochistan province have access to schools and basic services, but the cost is not easy to bear.
Pakistan: Pushed to SafetyPlay video

Pakistan: Pushed to Safety

Thousands are forced to flee the fighting in Pakistan's Khyber Agency on the border with Afghanistan.