UNHCR opens new global service centre in Hungary

News Stories, 29 February 2008

© UNHCR/A.Szobolits
High Commissioner Guterres and Minister Göncz cut the ribbon to open UNHCR's new centre in Budapest.

BUDAPEST, Hungary, February 29 (UNHCR) High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and Hungarian Foreign Minister Kinga Göncz on Friday presided over the opening of UNHCR's new Global Service Centre in the Hungarian capital.

Staff at the multi-storey building in central Budapest will oversee many administrative functions formerly handled at the UNHCR's headquarters in Geneva, including finance, personnel, payroll, recruitment, posting and supply management.

The UN refugee agency, with the support of donor nations, decided two years ago to move several administrative functions away from Geneva as part of reforms aimed at streamlining management and cutting costs. Several cities were considered around the world, but Budapest was chosen after the government offered modern, furnished premises free of charge.

"It was not only the wonderful premises, but also the qualifications of the labour force available," said Guterres, who thanked the government for its generosity. "Ninety-five percent of staff recruited in Hungary hold one or more university degrees," added the High Commissioner, after opening the building and signing an agreement on the global service centre with the Hungarian Foreign Minister.

Göncz said her government was honoured to host such an important organization and paid tribute to the strong historical and emotional ties between her country and the agency, which faced its first great test during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956.

"We are attached to the organization that provided so much care, assistance and love to Hungarians who were forced at that time to flee their country," she said.

There are currently 170 staff working in the Budapest Service Centre, including 102 recruited locally 75 percent of them Hungarian. The new team is multilingual and highly educated.

It took eight month to prepare the building, which began operations in January when the Geneva units were moved over to Budapest. Aside from letting UNHCR use the building rent-free, the government will also pay the maintenance costs.

During his brief stay in Budapest, Guterres also met with Hungary's President Laszlo Solyom and with the Minister of Justice and Law Enforcement Tibor Draskovics, who is in charge of asylum matters.

The centre is expected to reach its full staffing level for 2008 by the end of May. New staff are being trained at the same time as the centre meets the needs of the more than 6,300 UNHCR staff in some 110 countries around the world.

By Melita H. Sunjic in Budapest, Hungary