UN refugee agency mourns staff killed in Algiers bomb attack

Drivers are crucial staff for UNHCR's work

14 December 2007 – Staff members of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are mourning the loss of two colleagues, both Algerian nationals, killed in the deadly terror attack that struck the world body’s offices in Algiers on Tuesday.

Drivers Karim Bentebal and Nabil Slimani, both Algerian nationals, were killed when a car bomb ripped the façade off the UNHCR office, the agency’s spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva today, adding that one staff member was seriously wounded, while others sustained minor injuries.

A support team from Geneva, where the agency is based, was urgently dispatched to the Algerian capital on Wednesday to assist staff and families of those killed in the attack, which also claimed the lives of at least nine other UN staff members.

UNHCR has about 40 staff working in Algeria, 14 of whom were in Algiers at the time of the blast, Ms. Pagonis said. Most of the agency’s staff work in the Tindouf area some 2,000 kilometres south-west of the capital, assisting Sahrawi refugees from Western Sahara living in five refugee camps.

The agency lost another staff member last week when driver Mahamat Mahamadou, a Chadian national, was shot dead in his vehicle in the southern part of the country.

“It has been a particularly black time for UNHCR, with three drivers killed in the line of humanitarian duty in the space of a week,” said Ms. Pagonis. “UNHCR drivers are a vital part of our frontline humanitarian staff and widely recognised as crucial to our operations and understanding of the countries we work in. It is very troubling that three drivers have lost their lives in such violent circumstances within a week.”

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