UNHCR chief meets Pope Francis to discuss refugee issues

News Stories, 6 December 2013

© Osservatore Romano
Pope Francis discusses refugee issues with High Commissioner Guterres in the Vatican today.

ROME, Italy, December 6 (UNHCR) Pope Francis discussed the plight of millions of forcibly displaced people around the world with UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Friday during a private audience in Vatican City.

Guterres expressed his deep appreciation for the Pope's work in bringing public attention to refugees and internally displaced people, as well as putting a spotlight on the dangerous land and sea journeys that some asylum-seekers and migrants take.

The High Commissioner welcomed the Pope's recent calls for enhanced efforts to save lives in the Mediterranean, at a time when increasing numbers of people, including refugees from Syria, Eritrea and Somalia, are crossing the Mediterranean by irregular sea routes to reach Europe.

Guterres told Pope Francis about UNHCR's Strategy on Protection At Sea, which focuses on enhancing rescue, promoting protection from exploitation and abuse as well as establishing protection-sensitive responses after disembarkation.

Pope Francis and the High Commissioner also shared their worries about the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the need for massive support to neighbouring countries, now hosting more than 2.2 million refugees.

The High Commissioner spoke of his concern at reports of some European Union countries placing barriers or forcibly returning refugees, including people fleeing the conflict in Syria. He noted that UNHCR has called for a global moratorium on returns to Syria and neighbouring countries.

The two men also discussed UNHCR's efforts to reach out to faith leaders, including through a December 2012 "Dialogue on Faith and Protection." In October, Pope Francis met 2013 Nansen Refugee Award winner Angélique Namaika, a Roman Catholic nun from Democratic Republic of the Congo.



Italy: High Commissioner Guterres Meets Pope FrancisPlay video

Italy: High Commissioner Guterres Meets Pope Francis

Pope Francis and High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres discuss refugees issues in the Vatican today.

The High Commissioner

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

2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presents the Nansen medal to Afghan refugee, Aqeela Asifi in Geneva, Switzerland.

Asifi, 49, has dedicated her life to bringing education to refugee girls in Pakistan. Despite minimal resources and significant cultural challenges, Asifi - a former teacher who fled from Kabul with her family in 1992 - has guided over a thousand refugee girls through primary education in the Kot Chandana refugee village in Mianwali, Pakistan.

Before she arrived, strict cultural traditions kept most girls at home. But she was determined to give these girls a chance and began teaching just a handful of pupils in a makeshift school tent.

UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award honours extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced, and names Eleanor Roosevelt, Graça Machel and Luciano Pavarotti among its laureates. Speakers and performers at today's award ceremony include UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Ger Duany, Unicef Goodwill Ambassador and singer Angelique Kidjo and visual artist Cedric Cassimo.

Afghanistan is the largest, most protracted refugee crisis in the world. Over 2.6 million Afghans currently live in exile and over half of them are children.

2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Cameroon in late March to put a spotlight on the situation there of tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria. These people have escaped mounting violence by insurgents in the north-east of their country. Among the places that Guterres visited during his March 24-25 visit is the Minawao Refugee Camp, where many of the uprooted have been relocated.

Situated some 120 kilometres from the dangerous border area with Nigeria in Cameroon's Far North region, Minawao camp is currently home to 33,000 Nigerian refugees, mainly from Borno state. Many of the arrivals are traumatized and in need of material and psycho-social help. They told the High Commissioner of losing their homes and belongings as well as members of their families. Some were injured. In total, an estimated 74,000 Nigerians have found refuge in Cameroon while cross-border incursions from Nigeria have displaced 96,000 Cameroonians. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux also visited Minawao to hear the individual stories.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

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

High Commissioner Guterres Remarks on the resettlement of Refugees from Bhutan in NepalPlay video

High Commissioner Guterres Remarks on the resettlement of Refugees from Bhutan in Nepal

The UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) marked a major milestone: the resettlement of over 100,000 refugees from Bhutan in Nepal to third countries since the launch of the programme in 2007.
Turkey: World Refugee Day visitsPlay video

Turkey: World Refugee Day visits

On World Refugee Day the UNHCR High Commissioner, António Guterres, along with Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, travelled to southeastern Turkey, the home of hundreds of thousands of refugees from conflicts in Syria and Iraq. They were in the midyat refugee camp to see conditions for these people and to issue a warning to the world.
Kuwait donating money to UNHCRPlay video

Kuwait donating money to UNHCR

Kuwait has donated just over US$120 million to the UN refugee agency to assist its efforts in dealing with the humanitarian situation resulting from the crisis in Syria. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warmly thanked and praised the government of Kuwait and its people for the extreme generosity when he received a cheque for the amount at a ceremony on Wednesday evening in Geneva.