Veteran relief official named head of UN agency for Palestinian refugees

28 June 2005

A veteran United Nations relief official was today named head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the body that has been the main source of support for Palestinian refugees for the past 55 years.

A veteran United Nations relief official was today named head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the body that has been the main source of support for Palestinian refugees for the past 55 years.

Karen AbuZayd, a United States national who was already UNRWA's Deputy Commissioner-General for the past five years and Acting Commissioner-General since Peter Hansen of Denmark relinquished the post in March, worked for 19 years for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) before joining the agency.

In a statement issued by his spokesman, Secretary-General Kofi Annan voiced his delight that Ms. AbuZayd has agreed to serve a full three-year term as Commissioner-General.

"The Secretary-General believes that under her leadership UNRWA will carry out its mandate and fully live up to its responsibilities, during a period which, we all hope, will see decisive progress towards lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, based on United Nations resolutions and a negotiated settlement of all outstanding issues, including the refugee problem," the statement added.

From her base in Gaza Ms. AbuZayd has helped oversee the education, health, social services and micro-enterprise programmes for 4.1 million Palestinian refugees.

During her time at UNHCR she first worked in Sudan in 1981, dealing with Ugandan, Chadian and Ethiopian refugees fleeing from war and famine in their own countries. In 1989 she moved to Namibia to help coordinate the return of apartheid-era refugees. A year later the Liberian civil war erupted and she moved to neighbouring Sierra Leone, and helped settle 100,000 Liberians in 600 villages along the joint border.

From 1991-93 she directed the South African repatriation and Kenya-Somali border operations from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva before serving as chief of mission in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where 4 million people displaced or otherwise affected by the war there were kept alive by the agency's airlift and convoy activities.

In her final four years at UNHCR she was chef de cabinet to High Commissioner Sadako Ogata.

 

♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.