Nansen medal for refugee activists from four continents

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today said this year's Nansen Medal, the refugee agency's annual award, will go to four former exiles who have helped the refugee cause in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

In a departure from the usual practice of awarding only one medal, the Nansen Committee this year granted four decorations to mark the 50th anniversary of UNHCR.

The awardees are:

  • His Holiness Abune Paulos, the Orthodox Patriarch of Ethiopia, renowned scholar and peace advocate and a former exile in the United States who has worked on reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea;
  • Dr. Lao Mong Hay, a leading Cambodian intellectual and pro-democracy activist who had been a refugee in Britain and who now heads the Khmer Institute of Democracy in Phnom Penh.
  • Jelena Silajdzic, a Bosnian film producer and refugee advocate in the Czech Republic who has worked with refugees from the Balkans.
  • Argentine virtuoso pianist, Miguel Angel Estrella, a former victim of the Argentine junta exiled to Paris who has used his stature as an artist to promote the refugee cause.

"We are marking half a century of UNHCR's work by awarding four people from four continents, whose own bitter experience of persecution and exile inspired them to help others." said High Commissioner Sadako Ogata.

The medals will be awarded in separate ceremonies in Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Prague and Buenos Aires in the course of the coming weeks.

The Nansen Medal Award was launched in 1955 by UNHCR's first High Commissioner G.J. van Heuven Goedhart. It is named after the famous Norwegian polar explorer and humanitarian, Fridtjof Nansen, the first League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the winner of the 1922 Nobel Prize for Peace.