UNHCR chief meets Pope Francis to discuss refugee issues

News Stories, 6 December 2013

© Osservatore Romano
Pope Francis discusses refugee issues with High Commissioner Guterres in the Vatican today.

ROME, Italy, December 6 (UNHCR) Pope Francis discussed the plight of millions of forcibly displaced people around the world with UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Friday during a private audience in Vatican City.

Guterres expressed his deep appreciation for the Pope's work in bringing public attention to refugees and internally displaced people, as well as putting a spotlight on the dangerous land and sea journeys that some asylum-seekers and migrants take.

The High Commissioner welcomed the Pope's recent calls for enhanced efforts to save lives in the Mediterranean, at a time when increasing numbers of people, including refugees from Syria, Eritrea and Somalia, are crossing the Mediterranean by irregular sea routes to reach Europe.

Guterres told Pope Francis about UNHCR's Strategy on Protection At Sea, which focuses on enhancing rescue, promoting protection from exploitation and abuse as well as establishing protection-sensitive responses after disembarkation.

Pope Francis and the High Commissioner also shared their worries about the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the need for massive support to neighbouring countries, now hosting more than 2.2 million refugees.

The High Commissioner spoke of his concern at reports of some European Union countries placing barriers or forcibly returning refugees, including people fleeing the conflict in Syria. He noted that UNHCR has called for a global moratorium on returns to Syria and neighbouring countries.

The two men also discussed UNHCR's efforts to reach out to faith leaders, including through a December 2012 "Dialogue on Faith and Protection." In October, Pope Francis met 2013 Nansen Refugee Award winner Angélique Namaika, a Roman Catholic nun from Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Italy: High Commissioner Guterres Meets Pope FrancisPlay video

Italy: High Commissioner Guterres Meets Pope Francis

Pope Francis and High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres discuss refugees issues in the Vatican today.

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented Sister Angélique Namaika of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award at a gala ceremony in Geneva on Monday night.

Sister Angélique, through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, has helped transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who had been forced from their homes and abused by fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) or other armed groups. Many of those she helps suffered abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape or other human rights abuses.

The Roman Catholic nun helps survivors to heal by offering them the chance to learn a trade, start a small business or go to school. Testimonies from these women show the remarkable effect she has had on helping turn around their lives, with many affectionately calling her "mother."

The Award ceremony featured a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam.

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

On 1 August, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres travelled to northern Burkina Faso with the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BRPM), Anne Richard. In Damba camp, they met with Malian refugees who had fled northern Mali in the past six months to escape the ongoing conflict and political instability. To date, more than 250,000 Malian refugees have fled their homes and found refuge in neighbouring countries, including 107,000 in Burkina Faso alone. The UN refugee agency has only received one-third of the US$153 million it needs to provide life-saving assistance such as shelter, water, sanitation, health services, nutrition and protection to the refugees. UNHCR fears that the volatile political and humanitarian situation in Mali could lead to further outflows to neighbouring countries.

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Lebanon: UN Agency Chiefs Visit Bekaa RefugeesPlay video

Lebanon: UN Agency Chiefs Visit Bekaa Refugees

The heads of UNHCR and the UN Development Programme visited Syrian refugees and joint projects in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. High Commissioner António Guterres said that the Syria crisis had become the worst humanitarian tragedy of our times.
Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat campPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat camp

Concluding a visit to Iraq, UNHCR chief António Guterres met with Syrian refugees in Arbat camp in the Kurdistan region. Guterres noted the recent proliferation of humanitarian crises, but urged the international community not to forget about Syria, "the mega protracted crisis of our times."
Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced IraqisPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced Iraqis

This week UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is visiting Iraq to meet with families displaced by conflict in recent weeks. After listening to accounts of their difficult journeys to safety, Guterres called for more support to help deal with the crisis. He will also visit some of the 300,000 Syrian refugees currently living in camps in northern Iraq.