Filippo Grandi of Italy has been selected by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, to become the 11th UN High Commissioner for Refugees, a post based in Geneva. Grandi will be officially voted into office by the UN General Assembly next week.
Grandi replaces António Guterres of Portugal, 66, who has been high commissioner of the refugee agency since 2005 for a total of two terms, one of which was extended this year as the UN dealt with a huge crisis of refugee and migrant flows coming primarily from the Middle East and Africa to Europe.
Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, headed one of the world’s largest humanitarian agencies; his last year in office was particularly challenging, given the outpouring of humans desperate to leave wars, poverty, persecution, joblessness, hunger and crime to seek better lives in the Western world, a surge that continues today.
Like Guterres, Grandi will oversee more than 9,300 staff members working in 123 countries, providing help to nearly 60 million refugees, returnees, internally displaced and stateless people, the UN refugee website said. Most of the staff members operate in the field, often in trying if not dangerous circumstances. The organization’s budget for 2015 is $7 billion, but it is almost entirely financed through voluntary donations and has been falling far short of the money it needs to fully administer its work.
Grandi has extensive experience working with the UN in humanitarian situations, including with refugees. He most recently worked for the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) as commissioner-general, from 2010 through March 2014. He joined the agency in October 2005 as deputy commissioner-general and was promoted to run the organization in January 2010.
His term saw major crises hitting Palestinian refugees: the Lebanon war in 2006; the destruction of the refugee camp in Nahr el-Bared, Lebanon, in 2007; Gaza fighting in 2008-2009 and November 2012; and the long, still unending war in Syria.
Grandi also served as a deputy special envoy for the UN’s mission in Afghanistan as well as previous roles with the refugee agency in that country and executive positions in Geneva. He has worked for the refugee agency in the field, including in Sudan, Syria, Turkey and Iraq. He led emergency operations in Kenya, Benin, Ghana, Liberia, the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Yemen.
His country, Italy, has been contending firsthand with the influx of refugees and migrants leaving their nations — by perilous sea routes as well as overland treks — for Europe, with their first stops, if they make it and don’t drown, often in Italy or in Greece before they head north. Italy also leads the European Union’s somewhat controversial naval operation monitoring the Mediterranean to intercept smugglers of migrants hustled from Libyan ports to cross the sea.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy said that Grandi’s appointment recognized his experience and professional quality, as well as the commitment of Italy in favor of refugees, according to a press spokesman at the Italian mission to the UN.
Grandi born in 1957 and has a degree in modern history from the University of Milan and a philosophy degree from Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.