Pope Notes 50th Anniversary of U.N. High Commissioner

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 10, 2000 (

John Paul II today appealed to the international community to address the situation of the world´s millions of refugees.

At noon, at the end of the Jubilee of Catechists and Religion Teachers, the Pontiff noted the celebrations in these days marking the 50th anniversary of the approval of the statute of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

«It is an important date for many who, forced to flee from their own countries because of war and persecution, have found in this program protection and assistance in every continent,» the Pope said.

The Holy Father rendered homage to all the disinherited who, thanks to this agency of the international community have found protection and assistance, and he also praised the men and women who have offered their «time, intelligence and generous willingness even beyond their professional duties.»

The Pope said they must be thanked for their work, by guaranteeing them «protection and supporting their humanitarian work with the necessary financial contribution.»

«It is possible,» he continued, «to find solutions in international solidarity and political dialogue, so that the acceptance of refugees will not be too heavy for some countries, and so that they will find in public structures and institutions a defense of their fundamental rights and liberties.»

The U.N. General Assembly established the High Commissioner for Refugees in 1950, one of several attempts by the international community during the 20th century to provide protection and assistance to refugees. The League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations, had named Norwegian scientist and explorer Fridtjof Nansen to the post of high commissioner in 1921. World War II provided the impetus for several new organizations, the U.N. Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, the International Refugee Organization, and, subsequently, UNHCR.

The new agency was given a three-year mandate to help resettle 1.2 million European refugees left homeless by the global conflict. However, as refugee crises mushroomed around the globe, its mandate was extended every five years. Today, UNHCR is one of the world´s principal humanitarian agencies, its staff of more than 5,000 personnel helping 22.3 million people in more than 120 countries.

An executive committee of 57 member states meets annually to approve UNHCR´s programs and policy guidelines. A second working group, or standing committee, meets several times a year. The high commissioner reports on the agency´s work annually to the U.N. General Assembly through the Economic and Social Council.

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