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New Head of U.N. Refugee Agency Chosen

I’m Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Antonio Guterres, chosen as the new head of the United Nations refugee agency, is a former prime minister of Portugal. Mister Guterres served from nineteen ninety-six to two thousand two. He resigned after heavy losses by his Socialist Party in local elections.

Since nineteen ninety-nine, Mister Guterres has been president of the Socialist International. That is an organization of one hundred sixty-six social democratic, socialist and labor parties around the world. Since two thousand three, Mister Guterres has also advised the board of directors of one of the largest banks in Portugal.

Last week, Secretary General Kofi Annan nominated him to become the tenth U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Approval is required by the General Assembly in New York. Mister Guterres is to begin a three-year term on June fifteenth.

Antonio Guterres is fifty-six years old. He served in the Portuguese parliament from nineteen seventy-six to nineteen eighty-three. Two years later he returned to parliament and served for ten more years. During that time he started the Portuguese Refugee Council.

Former Dutch prime minister Ruud Lubbers resigned in February as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Several women had accused him of sexual harassment. Mister Lubbers denied any wrongdoing. In his resignation letter, he said he had felt insulted by the way he was treated. He suggested that media pressure on Mister Annan had played a part.

Wendy Chamberlin has been the acting head of the U.N. refugee agency. She calls Mister Guterres a "highly respected international statesman with a wealth of experience."

The agency is called the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or U.N.H.C.R. The General Assembly passed a resolution in December of nineteen fifty to establish the office.

The main purpose is to protect the rights and security of refugees. Today, U.N. officials estimate that there are seventeen million refugees and others of concern to the agency, such as asylum seekers.

The U.N.H.C.R. has six thousand employees in one hundred fifteen countries. The agency has won two Nobel Peace Prizes. And it estimates it has helped more than fifty million people.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. Our reports are on the Internet at I'm Gwen Outen.