Briefing Notes, 14 December 2007
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 14 December 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
At UNHCR's Geneva headquarters yesterday, normal activity came to a standstill as staff observed a minute of silence in memory of their two colleagues – drivers Karim Bentebal and Nabil Slimani, both Algerian nationals – killed in the deadly bomb blast which destroyed the agency's office in Algiers on Tuesday. One staff member was seriously wounded, while others sustained minor injuries from the powerful blast which ripped the façade off the UNHCR office. A support team from Geneva was urgently dispatched to Algiers on Wednesday to assist staff and families of those killed in this horrific incident. We are currently assessing how to best continue operating in Algeria where we assist Sahrawi refugees from the Western Sahara in five refugee camps in Tindouf. UNHCR has around 40 staff working in Algeria, 14 were in Algiers at the time of the blast. Most of our staff work in the Tindouf area some 2,000 km south-west of the capital.
It has been a particularly black time for UNHCR, with three drivers killed in the line of humanitarian duty in the space of a week. In southern Chad late last week driver Mahamat Mahamadou, a Chadian national, was shot dead in his vehicle in unexplained circumstances on a route normally considered as safe. UNHCR drivers are a vital part of our frontline humanitarian staff and widely recognised as crucial to our operations and understanding of the countries we work in. It is very troubling that three drivers have lost their lives in such violent circumstances within a week.