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High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers assumes duties

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High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers assumes duties

3 January 2001

UNHCR staff members Wednesday welcomed the new U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Ruud Lubbers, who called for a "minimum of bureaucracy and a maximum of flexibility" in helping the world's 22 million refugees.

Speaking on his arrival at the agency's Geneva headquarters, Mr. Lubbers said he was looking forward to working with UNHCR's 5,000 staff members in 120 countries, and "I hope all of you around the globe will help me."

The former Dutch Prime Minister was elected the refugee agency's ninth High Commissioner in October by the U.N. General Assembly following his nomination by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Mr. Lubbers succeeds Mrs. Sadako Ogata of Japan, who served as High Commissioner from 1991 until Dec. 31, 2000.

Paying homage to his predecessor and noting UNHCR's "proud record" of serving refugees, Mr. Lubbers said the agency must continue to live up to its legacy. Referring to UNHCR's dependence on donor funding, he said "we need financial resources - the cause of refugees deserves financial resources."

This cause will be even more credible, Mr. Lubbers added, if the agency demonstrates "a minimum of bureaucracy and a maximum of flexibility; a minimum of hierarchy and a maximum of accountability and transparency."

UNHCR is currently marking its 50th anniversary, a milestone that Mr. Lubbers said was rightly aimed at promoting respect for the individual and collective accomplishments of the world's refugees.

Mr. Lubbers was born 7 May 1939 in Rotterdam and was educated at Canisius College in Nijmegen and the Netherlands School of Economics, graduating in 1962. After managing a family company in the Netherlands, he began a long political career in 1973, when he joined the government as Minister for Economic Affairs. He served as Prime Minister from 1982 to 1994, the Netherlands' longest-serving post-war premier.

After leaving politics he taught university courses on globalisation and sustainable development at Tilburg University in the Netherlands and as a visiting professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in the United States. He was also vice-chairman of the Independent World Commission on the Oceans and chair of Globus, the Institute for Globalisation and Development based in Tilburg.

In November 1999, he was elected international president of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Mr. Lubbers and his wife, Maria, have three children.