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DU center helps connect Western Union and the United Nations

Western Union — the company that can send money to virtually any country — has plenty of reasons to partner with a United Nations agency that helps people without a country.

But the company’s chairman has an even bigger reason.

The University of Denver’s Ved Nanda Center for International and Comparative Law brought the two organizations together Aug. 29 at the Sturm College of Law.

Western Union President and CEO Hikmet Ersek talked about how his company considers donations to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to be part of its commitment to corporate responsibility, and how refugees use Western Union’s to help those back home.

But Ersek also shared a more personal reason that his company made a $60,000 donation to the commission at the event: his own family.

Pausing at times as he struggled with emotion, Ersek told how his sister-in-law was a refugee from Chile many years ago. With the help of the commission, she made her way to Austria, where she began a new life and eventually became a doctor. He told the audience how he has used the company to send relatives money, and how he was touched by the stories immigrants tell him about sending money home to those who need it.

“Someone crosses a border to start a new life every 25 seconds,” he said. “Millions of our customers use us as an economic lifeline, supporting loved ones back home. We are all global citizens, and we all have a role to play.”

More than 75 DU law students, faculty and staff and representatives from the Denver business community packed the law school’s forum to hear the commission’s deputy regional representative, Buti Kale, describe the mission of his agency, now in its 60th year.

The agency began with a three-year mandate to help refugees in Northern Africa resettle. That mandate was extended to five years, and then indefinitely. Some 43 million people are considered refugees and are in need of food, shelter and protection.

Struggles in Syria and Libya are just the latest challenges for the agency, even as it deals with older problems in Somalia and other parts of Africa.

The agency, Kale said, plays a vital role in ensuring that refugees — people who no longer have a country or an identity — are able to register and carry identification, which allows them to collect UN aid and access Western Union’s services. Even if someone is able to send money to a refugee, that person can’t collect it without some form of identification, he said.

“[The commission] is doing what it can to bring hope to hopeless situations,” Kale said.

Nanda told the crowd that DU’s commitment to the mission isn’t a new initiative. More than 20 years ago, the University hosted a conference on issues affecting refugees. As a result, Nanda produced a book, Refugee Law and Policy and dedicated it to the commission. Nanda presented a copy of the book to Kale.

Donations to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees can be made at www.unrefugees.org.

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2 Comments

  1. Holly Berman says:

    Kudos to Professor Nanda and the Center for International and Comparative Law at Sturm College of Law at DU, and thanks to Western Union!!! Best regards from Holly Berman, Sturm College of Law Alumni (JD’05) and Protection Officer at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bogotá, Colombia.

  2. Ved and Katharine says:

    Check out Chase Squires blog on the UNHCR/ WUF event!

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