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Nansen medal for refugee activists from four continents

Press Releases, 3 November 2000

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.

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Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

UNHCR's annual Nansen Refugee Award was posthumously awarded to Senator Edward Kennedy at a ceremony in Washington DC on October 29 for his life-long commitment to refugee rights. Kennedy's wife, Victoria, accepted the award on behalf of her late husband. In presenting the award, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, praised the "vision and commitment" of Senator Kennedy in his support for the displaced.

The prize money of US$100,000 will be donated to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, where it will be used to train the next generation of leaders dedicated to the cause of refugee advocacy. The Nansen Award is given to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. It was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian polar explorer, scientist and the first global High Commissioner for Refugees.

Nansen Award presentation for the late Senator Edward Kennedy

New Arrivals in Yemen

During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

New Arrivals in Yemen

Osvaldo Laport

Osvaldo Laport

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