ICVA invites applicants for the post of UN High Commissioner for Refugees to answer 5 questions

Congratulations to Filippo Grandi on his nomination to be the next UN High Commissioner for Refugees, announced on 11 November 2015, by the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon.  

You can read about Mr Grandi’s vision of the role and responsibilites of the High Commissioner in his answers to ICVA’s five questions.   We are grateful to him and the other three individuals who answered our questions: Sania Nishtar (Pakistani), Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Danish), and Jasmine Whitbread (British and Swiss). 

ICVA, which serves as an important link between UNHCR and the wider NGO community, appreciated Mr Grandi's statement on partnership in his answer to ICVA's five questions:

"Partnership will also help UNHCR remain innovative, accountable and open to change. The High Commissioner must truly, concretely value partnerships, and work towards substantially strengthening and renewing UNHCR's partnership culture and practices in a spirit of real complementarity."

We were pleased to see ICVA's publication "Who wants to be the next High Commissioner " quoted in the New York Times and also in an article in Le Temps.


Monday, 14 September 2015 was the deadline for those interested in serving as the next UN High Commissioner for Refugees to submit their applications to the UN Secretariat.

As we did 15 and 10 years ago, ICVA issued a public call encouraging applicants to answer five key questions. The results are available here.  ICVA’s goal in this initiative is to promote transparency in the selection process - not endorse any particular candidate.

ICVA is a global network of NGOs dedicated to principled and effective humanitarian action.  It has a long history in forced displacement issues, and won the Nansen Refugee Award in 1963.  ICVA facilitates NGO statements delivered at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) governing board meetings and co-organizes UNHCR’s annual consultations with NGOs.  We believe the High Commissioner plays a crucial role in advancing protection, assistance and durable solutions for displaced persons worldwide.

Listed below are the individuals who applied for the High Commissioner position and agreed to answer ICVA’s five questions:

Filippo Grandi (Italian)

Sania Nishtar (Pakistani)

Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Danish)

Jasmine Whitbread (British and Swiss)

Please note the following:

  • The applicants are listed in alphabetical order.
  • Their submissions were not edited by ICVA.  They are presented exactly as submitted.
  • Information on their professional backgrounds can be found on publicly available resources.

We are grateful to these four individuals for taking the time to answer some tough questions.  We appreciate their thoughtfulness and willingness to participate in this process.

Below is our original call to applicants.

We expect High Commissioner António Guterres to continue in his role at UNHCR until the end of 2015

He will be a hard act to follow.  Under his watch:

  • UNHCR responded to many emergencies, particularly related to displaced Afghans, Central Africans, Colombians, Darfuris, Georgians, Haitians, Iraqis, Libyans, Malians, Pakistanis, Somalis, South Sudanese, Sudanese, Syrians, Ukrainians and Yemenis, to name a few.

  • UNHCR introduced a needs-based budgeting approach, which contributed to UNHCR increasing its annual budget from nearly $1 billion in 2005 to $7 billion today. 

  • Guterres established the post of Assistant High Commissioner for Protection and reduced the number of staff in Headquarters/Geneva by over 20%. 

  • UNHCR drew attention to the overlooked problem of statelessness by launching a campaign and increasing the number of state parties to the Statelessness conventions.

  • Guterres led interactive dialogues bringing states, UN agencies, and civil society together to discuss mixed migratory flows, protracted refugee situations, urban settings, protection gaps, faith, internally displaced persons and protection at sea.  In December he will lead his final dialogue looking into root causes of displacement.


As we did 15 and 10 years ago, ICVA is promoting a transparent process to select the next High Commissioner.   To see the applicants's responses in 2005 please see ICVA's Talk Back issue 7.2  and Talk Back issue 7.2a


We invite applicants to write back why they are the best candidate for the job and to respond to five key questions:

1. UNHCR was established in 1950, initially to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. UNHCR also has a clear mandate for stateless persons and has over time become more engaged with internally displaced persons and other vulnerable populations. How do you see the role of the High Commissioner and UNHCR today?

2. The number of displaced persons has surpassed that witnessed in World War II. UNHCR’s current budget is only 37% funded.  The High Commissioner has said the system is not broken, but it is broke.  What would be your priorities in the face of many competing demands and limited resources?

3. UNHCR seeks to maintain humanitarian values and protection space in the fulfillment of its mandate. How do you see UNHCR continuing this work in the future?

4. The agency has at times been confronted with ambiguity in the humanitarian system regarding coordination, protection, assistance, and durable solutions – particularly in areas with mixed populations.  How do you see UNHCR fitting into the broader humanitarian and development context? 

 5. Among other important criteria listed in the vacancy announcement, the High Commissioner’s successor must have partnership experience.  UNHCR has increasingly worked through partners (nearly 1000 NGOs) to reach persons of concern on the ground. How do you view partnership?  



We look forward to sharing the applicant's answers with you.

Download the Call to applicants

Candidates -  if you have questions please do not hesitate to contact the ICVA Secretariat on secretariat@icvanetwork.org