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U.N. refugee agency celebrates 60 years

Dec. 14, 2010 at 10:29 AM

GENEVA, Switzerland, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- The 60th anniversary of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, based in Switzerland, was marked by its leader calling on the world to help the displaced.

Antonio Guterres, speaking at the agency's headquarters in Geneva, warned of many new factors that are causing displacement, saying many didn't exist when the refugee agency was founded or when major international refugee and statelessness conventions were created, the United Nations said in a release Tuesday.

"UNHCR traditionally was supporting refugees, people that would cross a border because of a conflict or persecution," he said. "But now we see that more and more people are crossing borders because of extreme poverty, because of the impact of climate change, (and) because of their interrelation with conflict. So there are new patterns of forced displacement and the international community needs to be able to tackle those challenges."

The agency was created Dec. 14, 1950 by the U.N. General Assembly to address the post-World War II refugee situation in Europe. By 1956 it faced its first major international emergency when people fled the Hungarian Revolution crushed by Soviet forces.

The agency twice received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Now, UNHCR deals with a global population of about 43 million refugees, internally displaced people and asylum-seekers, Guterres said.

"We have many reasons to be proud," he said, "but we also have much more reason to be concerned with the challenges we face at the present moment, and recognizing that unfortunately the root causes of conflict and displacement are not being eliminated and the next few years will be as challenging as the past."

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