September 4, 2015 / 10:52 AM / in 2 years

Head of U.N. refugee agency to step down this year

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres speaks during a news conference on the subject of the refugee crisis in Europe, at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, August 26, 2015. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said on Friday he would step down at the end of this year and not seek a renewal of his mandate.

Guterres goes as Europe struggles with its biggest refugee crisis since World War Two, as some of the 4 million Syrians who have fled war seek safety in the West, adding to numbers of people escaping violence and hardship in Africa and Asia.

Guterres declined to confirm or deny rumors that he might seek to replace U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who will step down next year.

“My ambition is exactly to go to the end of the mandate doing exactly what I have to do. And then, we’ll see the next step. At the moment I think I have the plate full,” the 66-year-old former Portuguese prime minister told reporters.

“There are many organizations in the world that have secretary-generals, I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said, before walking away.

Guterres’ spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said: “He served over 10 years. His mandate was already extended by six months. It was originally supposed to end in June.”

Earlier on Friday, Guterres said European Union states must make “fundamental changes” in policy to take in more refugees.

“This is a defining moment for the European Union, and it now has no other choice but to mobilize full force around this crisis. The only way to solve this problem is for the Union and all member states to implement a common strategy, based on responsibility, solidarity and trust,” Guterres said.

Denmark, whose rules on accepting refugees are seen as stricter than in many other European countries, has nominated former prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt to replace him.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Additional reporting by Ole Mikkelsen; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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