Introduced by Annan, new UN High Commissioner pleads refugees' cause

27 June 2005
António Guterres

Freshly returned from his first mission as the head of the United Nations refugee organization, António Guterres appealed to the developed world not to confuse refugees with economic migrants or terrorists.

"Refugees and asylum-seekers are not terrorists," the new head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said at a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York, where he was introduced by Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"They are the first victims of terror and should be considered as such." In fact, he continued, the need to fight terror goes hand in with the need to be more open to refugees.

In that context, he pleaded with Governments who were receiving large inflows of refugees and asylum-seekers not to take the easy road and kick them out, but instead to abide by the procedures of international refugee law in considering their cases.

"What has happened with the Rwanda refugees in Burundi cannot be repeated," he said, referring to actions of Rwanda and Burundi last week, in which the refugees were summarily transported to Rwanda without being interviewed by UNHCR staff.

In his introduction of Mr. Guterres, Mr. Annan noted that the new Commissioner had immediately gone to the field in northern Uganda and had much previous experience with refugee issues as a former Prime Minister of Portugal.

"He comes to us with experience as the former Prime Minister of a country that has good experience of integrating quite a lot of refugees from Africa, from Mozambique and Angola," he said.

A founding member of the Portuguese Refugee Council, Mr. Guterres, 56, succeeds Ruud Lubbers of the Netherlands, who resigned on 20 February amid a media furore over allegations against him of sexual harassment, which he denied.

In his five-year term as the tenth High Commissioner, Mr. Guterres will head a staff of 6,000 people who assist more than 17 million refugees and other vulnerable people in 115 countries.


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