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UNHCR chief seeks more international support to solve the Somali refugee situation

News Stories, 7 October 2011

© UNHCR/J.-M.Ferré
High Commissioner Guterres closes the annual meeting of UNHCR's Executive Committee.

GENEVA, October 7 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres wrapped up the annual meeting of UNHCR's governing Executive Committee, or ExCom, on Friday with a fresh call for international support to find a solution to the plight of Somali refugees.

He also told delegates that UNHCR was looking at what kind of "catalytic" role it could play in finding solutions to the long-running Somalia refugee crisis, which has been exacerbated this year by drought, famine and the continuing fighting in the south and centre of the country. More than 900,000 Somalis are now refugees in neighbouring countries and some 1.5 million are internally displaced.

Guterres indicated that areas the international community could look at included increased burden-sharing and support for host countries and communities, including economic development.

"Those communities are paying a high price supporting refugees and they need solidarity and burden-sharing in relation to their own economic and social development needs. And that is why it is so important that development cooperation becomes a key instrument in the solutions for refugee problems," he said.

But he also noted that "it is necessary to recognize that the capacity to coordinate between the UN system and international financial organizations is still in its very beginning. And the capacity of coordination of multilateral actors with bilateral forms of cooperation has also still a long way to go."

Looking ahead to 2012, the High Commissioner said: "I think we should do our best to concentrate our efforts next year on protracted refugee situations, on urban refugee problems and in addressing the protection gaps [in education, health and other areas] in this complex movement of people that we are witnessing, and develop the forms of burden-sharing that are necessary."

At a post-Excom press conference, Guterres referred positively to a new political road map on Somalia that had emerged from a High Level Consultative Meeting in Mogadishu in early September, and also spoke of the need for better equipping of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers.

"I gave two suggestions. First, nurture this political process that is now being born to avoid that it has the same destiny as others in the past," he said. "Second, make AMISOM an effective and operational force according to its mandate. It doesn't make sense to approve the mandate in the [UN] Security Council and then not to provide the instruments that are needed. And the costs are ridiculous compared with the costs of military presences in other parts of the world."

The annual ExCom meeting reviews and approves UNHCR's programmes and budget, advises on protection issues and discusses a wide range of other topics. Tunisia's Acting President Fouad Mebazaa was the guest of honour at this year's meeting, which saw Sweden take over chairmanship from Egypt.

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The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Executive Committee

The governing body meets annually to discuss programmes, budgets and other key issues.

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

On 1 August, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres travelled to northern Burkina Faso with the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BRPM), Anne Richard. In Damba camp, they met with Malian refugees who had fled northern Mali in the past six months to escape the ongoing conflict and political instability. To date, more than 250,000 Malian refugees have fled their homes and found refuge in neighbouring countries, including 107,000 in Burkina Faso alone. The UN refugee agency has only received one-third of the US$153 million it needs to provide life-saving assistance such as shelter, water, sanitation, health services, nutrition and protection to the refugees. UNHCR fears that the volatile political and humanitarian situation in Mali could lead to further outflows to neighbouring countries.

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented the Colombian women's rights group, Butterflies with New Wings Building a Future, with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday night.

The volunteer members of Butterflies risk their lives each day to help survivors of forced displacement and sexual abuse in the Pacific Coast city of Buenaventura. This city has some of the highest rates of violence and displacement due to escalating rivalries between illegal armed groups.

Drawing on only the most modest of resources, volunteers cautiously move through the most dangerous neighbourhoods to help women access medical care and report crimes. This work, deep inside the communities, helps them reach the most vulnerable women, but also brings with it danger and threats from the illegal armed groups.

The Award ceremony, in its 60th year, was held in Geneva's Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, and featured musical performances by UNHCR supporters, Swedish-Lebanese singer-songwriter Maher Zain and Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré. The Mexican acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela also performed at the ceremony.

2014 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

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