News Stories, 21 July 2008
NEW YORK, United States, July 21 (UNHCR) – Popular Spanish television presenter Jesús Vázquez has been appointed as the UN refugee agency's newest Goodwill Ambassador during a ceremony in New York.
Vázquez was formally welcomed into the UN family last Friday by Pierre Bertrand, director of UNHCR's New York office, who handed him a special certificate accrediting him as a Goodwill Ambassador.
"Jesús Vázquez has great communication skills and the capacity to reach out to the minds and hearts of diverse audiences, which will help for a better understanding of the refugee cause" said Bertrand.
"After shining so brilliantly both in Austria and Wimbledon, Spain is scoring another goal today in New York," he added, comparing 42-year-old Vázquez to Spain's victorious team in the recent European Football Championship and to Rafael Nadal, the men's tennis champion at Wimbledon this year.
The ceremony was attended by media representatives and dignitaries, including UN Under-Secretary General for Communication and Public Information Kiyo Akasaka and Iñigo de Palacio, deputy representative for the Spanish Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
Vázquez, who started his career working as a male model, is one of the most popular and respected TV presenters in Spain. He has won several honours, including Spain's most prestigious award for television, the TP de Oro, which he won three times in a row from 2004-2006.
Over the past two years, he has become increasingly involved in refugee issues, forming a close bond with the UNHCR office in Spain and the national association, España con ACNUR. He says his interest was aroused when UNHCR sent him a T-shirt with a picture of physicist Albert Einstein above the message, "Einstein was a Refugee."
He decided to wear the T-shirt during his show on the Telecinco (Tele 5) channel. "The message touched me and I decided to wear it and learn more about UNHCR and its mandate," Vázquez recalled on Friday.
His commitment was cemented in March last year when he visited Dadaab in north-east Kenya, where UNHCR looks after some 200,000 mainly Somali refugees in three camps. "It was inside their huts, listening to them, when I could really see the daily struggle for survival and the challenge of continuing to live when everything has been lost," he said.
Vázquez also came away impressed by UNHCR staff in the field. "I learned exemplary lessons of professionalism and dedication from the aid workers. My most sincere acknowledgement and admiration go also to them," he added.
In the near future, Vázquez plans to return to Dadaab and follow up on a project he launched last year to create a radio communications network between the three camps in Dadaab that will disseminate important information on health, humanitarian aid and education. "I want to return to the camps with something more than words and promises."
It will be his first mission as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, but no doubt just one of many over the coming years. He regularly promotes the work of UNHCR and the issue of people forced to flee their homes.
Vázquez joins other UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors Angelina Jolie, Barbara Hendricks, Adel Imam, Giorgio Armani, Muazzez Ersoy, Julien Clerc and Osvaldo Laport as well as national envoys such as Khaled Hosseini.
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors use their talents and time to advocate for refugees, communicating to the general public the message of respect and solidarity with those fleeing persecution and conflict in a uniquely powerful way. They effectively use their privileged access to media and influential members of civil society to give a voice to refugees.
By María Jesús Vega in New York, United States