Transcript of remarks at a short ceremony to mark the tragic loss of three UNHCR colleagues in the Ethiopian Airlines crash on 10 March 2019
UNHCR Headquarters, 11 March 2019 at 14.30
Good afternoon to all of you here at HQ, and my greetings also to all the colleagues that are joining up as much as possible from field locations.
As you all know we are gathered here on a very sad task, following the terrible tragedy that occurred in Ethiopia yesterday - the Ethiopian Airlines crash that has caused the death of an estimated 157 people. Many, for a series of tragic coincidences and circumstances, were members of the international aid community in Africa and globally; and many belonged to United Nations organizations and partner organizations, NGOs, civil society or were engaged otherwise in helping people. And most tragically, three of those people, as you all know by now, were our dear colleagues.
I have shared this morning with all of you their names, let me repeat them again: Nadia Adam Abaker Ali, Jessica Hyba, Jackson Musoni. I propose that before I continue, we observe in their honour a minute of silence. Thank you.
I am well aware that many of you, both here in Geneva and in many, many field locations, were friends with our colleagues, and even with some of the other people that lost their lives. I know that many of you worked with them, and first and foremost I would like to convey to all those who are most particularly affected the solidarity, the support of all of us at UNHCR. We are all with you. Let me share briefly a few words about each of our three departed colleagues.
Nadia Adam Abaker Ali. She was Assistant Community-Based Protection Officer in Nyala, Sudan - her country. She had spent 9 years with UNHCR, working in Darfur, coming from the NGO community where she had been a health specialist. And she had devoted this last few years to - as you well know - one of the most challenging operations, in one of the most challenging environments in the world. She was well noted for her exceptional performance, especially in difficult circumstances such as in the South Sudan refugee emergency of 2017, and she had considerable responsibilities, especially in the areas of health that was her specialty, but also education and other programmes in support of the most vulnerable. We’ve been talking to many of her colleagues, who invariably say that she was a very lively person with a very big smile and a contagious laugh. She was seen as a sister in the office, as very much part of a family. She was always helpful and incredibly devoted in supporting the most vulnerable.
Jessica Hyba, who many of you here at Headquarters and beyond knew very well. She had joined UNHCR in 2013, initially on secondment from the Danish Refugee Council, and then as a staff member coming from a very rich career with different organizations: Care Canada, Care International, UNICEF - in Canada, her country, and in many field locations - in Chad, in Indonesia, in Jordan, in Iraq. She had served with UNHCR, as many of you know, in Baghdad and in Geneva most recently, where she was an Internal Communications Officer with Human Resources; and communication was her greatest skill among many. She really excelled in finding clear direct and compelling ways to communicate ideas, to tell the human stories. Only a month ago, she had been re-assigned to Mogadishu and I’ve spoken this morning to the Representative in Somalia, to Caroline, who told me that in this brief period she had already given, shared, proposed a lot of new ideas. She had been really trying hard to move to the field for some time and now as soon as this happened, through sheer fate, she was taken away from us.
Jackson Musoni. He was Associate Field Coordinator in East Darfur in the office in El Daein. He had joined UNHCR in 2014 in Rwanda, his country, as part of the protection team coming from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and he covered in Sudan, as International UNV, a range of important protection responsibilities. Also in the same challenging area. You know that Nadia and Jackson were both traveling together, to the same training programme in Nairobi. He covered important protection tasks - child protection, livelihoods, registration, SGBV - always, colleagues say, displaying the highest level of professionalism and integrity. Everybody said he, like Nadia contributed to creating a family environment in the office, and was very much trusted by partners and refugees. I was told that many today went to the office to express their pain for his loss.
And all three of them were not only committed staff and good colleagues; all of them were good parents of young children. Nadia, of one young daughter. Jessica, of two young daughters whose father is also a colleague of ours in Amman. Jackson, of two daughters and one son.
We think of them today, very especially of these children that have been left without a parent and we think of all the loved ones that have been left behind.
I would like to also take this opportunity to thank all those of you who in the last 48 hours - not even 48 hours, 24 hours - have been working relentlessly to support the bereaved families, the colleagues, the friends amongst ourselves who have been particularly impacted, including with very practical but also psychological support. When I say ‘all of you’ I include certainly the colleagues from the Division of Human Resources that is especially affected by Jessica’s tragic fate, the Staff Counsellors, but also the colleagues in field locations. This morning, I spoke to all the Representatives in the most impacted locations, because they - although carrying the burden of bereavement - are also trying their best to help the families of the colleagues that are no more with us. I spoke to the Representatives in Rwanda, in Somalia, in Sudan, to the former colleagues of Jessica here at Headquarters, and of course to Clementine and colleagues in Ethiopia, where the accident happened and where the follow up tasks for the UN team are particularly grim.
Before I close, I would like to share with you a few more thoughts. First of all, as you have certainly been following, this tragedy has touched not only us but the entire aid community - the entire global aid community. The terrible coincidence that many of these people were going, as you know, to an environmental conference in Nairobi has multiplied the number of casualties in the aid community. So there were many, as I said, from United Nations Organizations - we don’t even know exactly the number yet. There were many from NGOs, international organizations, many people on that plane who had devoted their lives, if you read the articles, they had devoted their lives in the service of others - selflessly, sacrificing very often their family time, their free time.
I’d like to think amidst the sorrow of this tragedy, that this fatality can bring all of us in the aid community together. I have received many messages, I have shared many messages with many organizations on behalf of you all; from the Secretary General, to many other colleagues in the UN and in the NGO community. And I would like to hope and trust that from this solidarity, from this coming together of the aid community in mourning our colleagues, we can draw strength in facing their loss. And as we pause, and reflect, and mourn - and we need to take time to do that, all of us here and in the field locations - we know that the challenges that we have to face every day continue - relentless, urgent, vital for many of the people of concern for whom we work.
Some of you, especially and including in some of the locations - actually in the very locations where our three colleagues worked – Somalia and Darfur, but many others, carry out these challenges, these tasks amidst dangers and risks to their own lives. It is also an opportunity to reflect on that, and all of us are constantly on the move, and we have seen yesterday that being on the move can also be unfortunately a risk.
So, my last point is that, let this tragic event - this loss without repair - let it be an opportunity for reflection on the fragility and the exposure of our lives. Let the good memories that we associate to our colleagues when they were alive, let those memories remind us - now that they are no more with us - of how precious and valuable it is to work together, in cooperation, in respect, and in friendship.
You can read a full transcript here of remarks by the High Commissioner at a short ceremony in Geneva to mark the tragic loss of three our three UNHCR colleagues