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World Humanitarian Day: UNHCR chief honours sacrifices by aid workers


World Humanitarian Day: UNHCR chief honours sacrifices by aid workers

In an address to mark World Humanitarian Day, Filippo Grandi pays tribute to the courage and sacrifice of colleagues risking all to help those in need worldwide.
19 August 2016
A UNHCR staff member carries a dehydrated baby to receive help at Moria camp, Lesvos, Greece.

GENEVA – UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Friday paid tribute to the inspiration, courage and sacrifice of humanitarian workers worldwide who place their lives at risk to help people in need in danger zones.

Since 1964, UNHCR has lost 50 colleagues. In an address to staff at the UN Refugee Agency’s headquarters in Geneva, Grandi said World Humanitarian Day was a “fitting occasion” to remember those who “went through the supreme sacrifice.”

“First and foremost, we must draw inspiration from the courage of our fallen colleagues. But we must also acknowledge that today, more than ever, humanitarian workers are targeted and continue to die,” he said.

The High Commissioner urged staff to remember and pay tribute to three UNHCR colleagues who lost their lives in Somalia during the past year.

In December 2015, Amina Noor Mohamed was shot dead in an ambush in Mogadishu in which the driver from a partner organization was also killed. Then, in April, gunmen shot and killed Fawzia, a mother of five children who worked as a cleaner in UNHCR’s offices in the Somali capital.

Last month, a car bomb took the life of another colleague, Ahmed Mohamed Hassan, as he travelled from the office in Mogadishu on foot.

Grandi said that approximately 50 per cent of UN Refugee Agency staff work in dangerous zones, including Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria, all of which he visited this year. “We should not forget that the majority of our colleagues are national staff whose lives are sometimes at even greater risk than international staff.”

He said his commitment to ensuring – to the extent that it is possible – maximum protection for staff working in dangerous areas, and maximum preparation for those deployed to them. He specified that support should be both material and psychological, and be available to all staff, including UNHCR's affiliated workforce.

In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly designated August 19 as World Humanitarian Day in honour of the 22 colleagues – including a former senior UNHCR official, Sergio Vieira de Mello – who lost their lives in the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad five years earlier.

Grandi stressed that ensuring a strong response to emergencies remains a major priority for UNHCR. He recalled how Vieira de Mello was himself a strong advocate of field presence, and swift emergency response.

“He spoke very passionately about the importance of being in the field, being with the refugees. He said: ‘Don’t sit here, go out there. Be with the people that need us,’” the High Commissioner said.

Grandi led staff in observing one minute’s silence to remember UN colleagues who have given their lives in the service of humanity. He then laid a floral wreath at the staff memorial.

The theme of World Humanitarian Day this year is "One Humanity.” It highlights the commitments made in May at the World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey, and rally people from around the world to demand greater global commitment and support for humanitarian action.