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Gregorian University Alum Takes Over as UN Refugee Official

UNRWA Commissioner General Filippo Grandi


NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 11: UNRWA Commissioner General Filippo Grandi speaks to journalists during a press conference on February 11, 2014 at United Nations Headquarters in New York, United States. Cem Ozdel / Anadolu Agency

John Burger - published on 01/05/16

Italian with long career in aiding displaced persons steps into job at difficult time

A graduate of Pontifical Gregorian University, the Jesuit institution in Rome, is the new head of the United Nations’ refugee agency.

Filippo Grandi, a UN official who has worked in refugee and political affairs in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, began a five-year term as UN High Commissioner for Refugees on Jan. 1, succeeding António Guterres, whose more than 10 years in office ended last week.

Grandi was born in Milan in 1957, according to his brief bio on the UN agency’s website. He holds a degree in modern history from the State University in Milan, a BA in philosophy from the Gregorian, as well as an honorary doctorate from the University of Coventry.

High Commissioner Grandi, who arrived at UNHCR’s headquarters office in Geneva earlier today, takes up the position at a time of unprecedented displacement challenges. Record numbers of people globally are forced to flee war and persecution, including more than one million refugees and migrants who crossed the Mediterranean to Europe during the past year. Other challenges include critical shortfalls in humanitarian funding, fewer voluntary returns than at any time in more than three decades, people staying in exile for longer periods of time and increased politicization of refugee issues in many countries.

“UNHCR is navigating extraordinarily difficult waters,” Grandi said in a statement. “The combination of multiple conflicts and resulting mass displacement, fresh challenges to asylum, the funding gap between humanitarian needs and resources, and growing xenophobia is very dangerous. The road ahead is a challenging one, but I hope that — working with governments, civil society and other partners — we will make progress in ensuring international protection and improved living conditions for millions of refugees, internally displaced and stateless people. I also hope that solutions to crises of displacement will be pursued with renewed determination by addressing their root causes and investing adequate political and material resources. UNHCR, whose mandate includes the search for solutions, stands ready to work with all those pursuing this goal.”

Grandi has worked in international affairs for more than 30 years, 27 of them with the United Nations. Formerly head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), he worked prior to that for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) as Deputy Special Representative, following a long career with UNHCR in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and at the organization’s Geneva headquarters.

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