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New UNHCR chief meets staff in Geneva


New UNHCR chief meets staff in Geneva

The UN refugee agency today welcomed its new High Commissioner, António Guterres, who expressed his pride at joining a team of the "dedicated and courageous" staff and shared his vision for the agency. He will start his five-year term officially on June 15.
2 June 2005
UNHCR's new High Commissioner António Guterres addressing staff in Geneva. Behind him are (from left) Assistant High Commissioner Kamel Morjane and Acting High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin.

GENEVA, June 2 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency today welcomed its new High Commissioner, António Guterres, who expressed his pride at joining a team of "dedicated and courageous" staff and shared his vision for the agency.

Guterres addressed staff members at UNHCR's headquarters in Geneva during a preliminary visit on Thursday before officially taking office on June 15. He met with Acting High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin, Assistant High Commissioner Kamel Morjane and members of the Senior Management Committee.

"António is a man who cares about refugees and people of asylum," said Chamberlin, presenting him to staff gathered in the agency's atrium. "He has a long history of showing this care, by teaching refugees mathematics in evening classes on his own time and by establishing the Portuguese Refugee Council in 1991. As Portugal's Prime Minister, he galvanised the international community to help East Timor in an emergency."

She noted that Guterres has a "deep and personal commitment to refugees," and is very concerned about staff welfare in UNHCR.

The new High Commissioner thanked her for "steering this huge ship" through the transition period and said he was proud to be working side by side with Morjane "in this organization to which he's given so much, to build it and develop it."

To the staff members, Guterres said, "It is a privilege to be here and it will be an even bigger privilege to become a part of the team, a group that is the most dedicated, the most courageous that we could find in all of the international organizations ... working in extremely difficult circumstances, with hardship, with insecurity, and being able to deliver and being for so many millions of people, the only source of hope."

He said he was entering UNHCR with conviction, humility and enthusiasm. "Conviction because I truly believe in the core values of this office and I want to struggle to make them prevail all over the world. Humility because I have a lot to learn, and will be depending on all of you for that. Enthusiasm because I would not be able to choose a more noble cause to fight for."

UNHCR has a strong identity linked to protection, he noted. "Protection delivered on time, with the capacity to deliver it quickly, efficiently and effectively.... Protection given to anyone who needs it, be they refugees, stateless people or internally displaced people."

While preparing to assume the agency's top position, "I was amazed with the huge efforts made by the office to change, to modernise in order to be able to answer to the challenges of this changing world, especially related to the people we are supposed to protect. We produce a remarkable amount of new ideas and new programmes, exceptional documents, wonderful policies. And I think we should cherish and be proud of that."

Guterres meeting with UNHCR's top officials in Geneva.

Outlining his vision for UNHCR in the next five years, he assured staff, "I'm not going to shoot in all directions or to launch any cocktail bomb of new projects. I want to concentrate myself, together with you, on consolidating and improving everything that has been developed. To ensure it is properly implemented with a clear guarantee of objectives in order to make protection effective everywhere we are, and especially, everywhere it is needed."

Within UNHCR, Guterres stressed the importance of transparency, accountability and openness with information. "Let there be no walls or secrets among us," he urged staff. "Let our relations always be based on truth. Please tell me always the truth, even when it's uncomfortable, unpleasant, or when it brings with it a lot of criticism."

He also emphasised his commitment to addressing gender issues for refugees and UNHCR staff, and welcomed the diversity within the agency.

"Our organization's cultural diversity is an essential tool for our own effectiveness in the field," said Guterres. "We work with people who need our support in so many places and we deal with so many cultures and ethnicities - and to be able to better understand their motivations, their problems, their difficulties, our own diversity is a crucial asset."