UN refugee agency ready to assist in response to Haiti earthquake

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres says his agency is ready to assist in the international response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Map of Haiti  © UNHCR

GENEVA, January 13 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said on Wednesday his agency is ready to assist in the international response to this week's devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Guterres, in a message to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, expressed solidarity and said he was "shocked and saddened" by the extent of the destruction. He also expressed his concern at the loss of life, including among staff at UN agencies.

UNHCR has no presence in Haiti, although it works with a non-governmental organization based in the country. Staff of UNHCR based in Panama, the agency's regional hub for Latin American and the Caribbean, have been meeting with other UN agencies to plot possible responses.

Haiti shares the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, with the rest occupied by the Dominican Republic. The country is consistently ranked the poorest in the Western hemisphere. Recent figures show that more than three quarters of the population survive on less than US$2 a day.

Tuesday's earthquake hit as Haiti was still recovering from a series of powerful hurricanes which slammed the country in 2008, displacing more than 800,000 people.

UNHCR's Caribbean unit, located in Washington, DC., promotes refugee protection advocacy, humanitarian assistance and long-term solutions on behalf of asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless people in the region. A network of non-governmental honorary liaisons in the region assists UNHCR in meeting its objectives.