Swiss helicopters flying for UNHCR end Aceh mission
GENEVA, Mar 1 (UNHCR) - The three Swiss Super-Puma helicopters put at the disposal of the UN refugee agency and other organizations in mid-January to help out with the tsunami relief operations in the Indonesian province of Aceh, flew their last mission on Sunday 27 February and are now packing up to return home. UNHCR has expressed its gratitude to the Swiss government for its generosity.
"UNHCR's Acting High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin wrote to Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey on Monday expressing our profound gratitude to the Federal Council for the helicopters," refugee agency spokesman Rupert Colville told journalists today.
During six weeks of operations, the helicopters have flown numerous sorties, airlifting over 300 tonnes of shelter and relief supplies to remote locations on Aceh's west coast and ferrying essential staff and equipment around the stricken area.
"The helicopters were an immense logistical boost to the refugee agency during the emergency relief phase of the operation and we are extremely grateful for the rapidity of the deployment of the helicopters and the cooperation and commitment of the crews," Colville added.
The helicopters operated from their base in Medan in northern Sumatra. As destroyed roads are being rebuilt, supplies for longer term shelter needs can now be effectively moved by other means of transport including by ship.
UNHCR, whose mandate normally restricts it to protecting and assisting people fleeing violence and persecution, took the unprecedented step of responding to the massive needs of the tsunami disaster at the request of the UN Secretary-General. In Indonesia's Aceh province, the refugee agency is focusing on providing shelter and non-relief food items to displaced people along the remote western coast.