[Dateline: Geneva | Author: UNHCR/iSeek]
The Secretary-General joined UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) staff in expressing relief for the safe release of Pakistan-based John Solecki, the head of the UNHCR’S Quetta office, over the weekend.
Mr. Solecki was released unharmed on Saturday night more than two months after he was abducted in Pakistan on 2 February (full story on UNHCR web site).
He was located Saturday evening by Pakistani authorities in Khadkhutcha, some 50 kilometres south of Quetta.
After being checked by medical authorities, Mr. Solecki left for Germany on a special medical flight and expects to leave for his home country, the United States, soon.
In Geneva, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres told hundreds of staff gathered at UNHCR's headquarters Monday morning that speaking to Mr. Solecki by telephone on Saturday was one of the best moments of his life (full story on UNHCR web site).
"This would probably not have been possible without the extraordinary work, intelligence, commitment and courage of both our team in Pakistan and our team in Geneva," Mr. Guterres said to loud applause from staff lining the balconies of UNHCR's seven-storey headquarters atrium.
Despite the relief over Mr. Solecki's freedom, UNHCR staff are mourning the loss of Mr. Syed Hashim, a 17-year veteran driver of the agency who died during the abduction, leaving behind a wife and four children.
A moment of silence was held in remembrance of Mr. Hashim.
Mr. Solecki, who was held for 61 days, had worked for the past two years in Balochistan, helping both Afghan refugees, the communities hosting them and local people affected by floods and earthquakes.
UNHCR’s work in Pakistan
"UNHCR looks forward to continuing its humanitarian efforts in Pakistan as part of the United Nations team working on behalf of all of the people," Mr. Guterres said.
In a related statement through his spokesperson, the Secretary-General reaffirmed the continuing commitment of the United Nations to help all the people of Pakistan, which has been demonstrated in Mr. Solecki’s work (full message).
In Paris, the SG told reporters, "I'd like to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to President Zardari of Pakistan and President Karzai of Afghanistan and many other people who have been working tirelessly to help John Solecki [get] released."
There are about 400,000 refugees registered in Balochistan, living in refugee villages as well as urban areas. In addition to the Quetta sub-office, UNHCR has two field offices in Balochistan.
The agency has its main office in Pakistan in Islamabad, with another sub-office in Peshawar overseeing other field offices. UNHCR has around 205 staff in Pakistan, 37 of them international and the rest national staff.
Pakistan is the top refugee hosting country in terms of numbers, hosting over a million refugees, according to 2007 statistics.
UNHCR is mandated by the General Assembly (A/RES/428) to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees.
Today, a staff of around 6,500 people in more than 116 countries continues to help 31.7 million persons.
Nearly two weeks after the annual Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members, observed annually on 25 March, Mr. Guterres expressed concern over the increasing dangers faced by aid workers and called for respect for the humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence.
"We need to make sure that these kinds of events do not go on multiplying in a way that is representing a major threat to the humanitarian community, narrowing our humanitarian space and a major concern for all of us," Mr. Guterres said, stressing that humanitarian works be perceived as honest brokers and independent actors, but "this is not an easy thing."
The SG also called for the release of Mr. Robert Fowler, his Special Envoy for Niger, who has been missing since December 2008.