Born in Bury St Edmunds, Geoff Wordley, 66, served in the Royal Navy, retiring as a Commander, before entering UNHCR in 1995 to 2016. He mainly served across Africa and in the Middle East and the Balkans in logistics, leading a field office and emergency management and inter-agency coordination.
During a stint in northern Burundi in 1995, Geoff found himself in a house that was attacked by militants with machine-guns and rifle grenades targeting international organisations supporting Rwandan refugees. “Thankfully, I heard the shots strafing the windows of the room where I was seated and was just able to throw myself under a heavy wooden table seconds before the RPG exploded against the opposite wall of the room, destroying the room but, thankfully, not the wooden table.” He escaped with minor shrapnel wounds. Others, including the province governor, were less fortunate. “It was quite a haunting night.”
Looking back at his career, Geoff cites numerous “unforgettable and often momentous events.”
First-class and dedicated people working in very difficult and often dangerous conditions
Looking ahead, he fears that in the post Cold War world, “many of the causes of refugee displacement have become indistinguishable from many of the problems causing internal displacement or economic migration, greying the identities of the populations of concern, and with that the solutions to their problems.”
He urges a more holistic approach to solving the problems of refugees, internally displaced and stateless people, and finding “a way out of the interminable emergency relief scenario by the international community working towards real developmental programmes leading to stability and peace.”
His abiding memory of UNCHR is of “first-class and dedicated people working in very difficult and often dangerous conditions.” He also misses the “sense of togetherness, achieving the simple common objective of helping people living in misery.”
'I was too star-struck to ask for a selfie'
'Many had no idea where they would sleep that night'
'They know best what works in their communities'
'We forded rivers and battled through muddy tracks'
'Without doubt it's the most interesting UN work'
'Repatriation and family reunion are definitely the best part'