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High Commissioner Lubbers says farewell to UNHCR staff

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High Commissioner Lubbers says farewell to UNHCR staff

24 February 2005 Also available in:

24 February 2005

GENEVA - In an emotional farewell, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers on Thursday said goodbye to some 6,000 UNHCR staff around the world and handed over temporary leadership responsibilities for the agency to Deputy High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin. Ms. Chamberlin will work closely with Assistant High Commissioner Kamel Morjane pending the appointment of a new High Commissioner.

"I saw a lot of misery during my time as High Commissioner, but a lot of wonderful things as well," Mr. Lubbers told hundreds of staff gathered in UNHCR's cavernous headquarters atrium. "For me, it was a great time. And I think for you - even with all the difficult moments - it was a great time as well."

Lubbers said his "50 wonderful months" leading UNHCR's global efforts to protect and assist 17 million refugees and others of concern were a privilege, and he thanked UNHCR staff for their support during the last, difficult 10 months.

"I don't feel alone today, not at all," he said. "I'm not going away in anger. No. I am going away with gratitude - gratitude for what you meant to me; gratitude for working together. I am absolutely sure that not only are the refugees wonderful people, you are, too ..."

Lubbers, who took over as High Commissioner on Jan. 1, 2001, had been scheduled to retire at the end of this year. He tendered his resignation to Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Sunday.

"We must now turn the page," Mr. Lubbers said. "Don't dwell longer in the past. Turn the page. That's what I ask you do to do. I'll do it myself anyway."

Concluding his remarks, the High Commissioner said he was happy that he could "hand over to my two wonderful colleagues."

"They will hold the fort, energize you," he said of Ms. Chamberlin and Mr. Morjane. "And you will energize them until a new High Commissioner comes in, the most beautiful job there is in the world."

Mr. Lubbers received several minutes of applause from staff lining all levels of the seven-storey atrium.

Deputy High Commissioner Chamberlin and Assistant High Commissioner Morjane both paid tribute to the High Commissioner and pledged solidarity in carrying on his work.

"You humble us and you inspire us, as you've inspired many, many refugees throughout the world," Chamberlin told Mr. Lubbers. "We hope to show you our gratitude because you leave a very deep mark in the lives of so many people."

Ms. Chamberlin then presented Mr. Lubbers with the first annual UNHCR Achievement Award, citing his individual and personal contributions to the lives of millions of refugees worldwide.

"Although it's going to be very difficult for us, we do make one promise to you," she concluded. "And that is that we will collectively bond together in solidarity to achieve and move forward your legacy, the Ruud Lubbers legacy."