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Refugees Magazine Issue 102 (The high cost of caring) - The 1995 Nansen Medal winner

Refugees Magazine, 1 December 1995

Mozambican humanitarian Graca Sabine Machel was awarded the 1995 Nansen Medal for her outstanding contributions on behalf of refugee children.

High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata presented the award, the 35th since 1955, to Machel at a ceremony on 20 October in Geneva.

"No country better reflects the hope of peace and reconciliation, nor the arduous task of reconstruction and rehabilitation, than Mozambique, where over 1.5 million refugees have returned home recently," Ogata said, in presenting the award. "No woman better symbolizes the courage and commitment to rebuilding the war-torn society to which the refugees have returned than Graca Sabine Machel."

Ogata noted that Machel was only the second African woman to receive the award since it began in 1955.

Machel, an activist and humanitarian since her student days in Portugal, was involved in Mozambique's liberation movement and, at the age of 29, was appointed state secretary for education in the post-independence government. She was the only woman in the Cabinet, and held the education portfolio until 1989. In 1975, she married Samora Machel, the first president of Mozambique.

Since her husband's death in a plane crash in October 1986, Machel has worked tirelessly for the development of Mozambique, overseeing efforts to provide universal education for all children and promoting peace and reconciliation in her war-torn homeland.

She is currently chairperson of an unprecedented United Nations study on the impact of armed conflict on children. The study, aimed at finding effective measures for the promotion and protection of the rights of child victims of armed conflict, is providing new insights into the plight of refugee children.

"For children, the deepest scars of war and flight are the hidden ones," Machel said in her acceptance speech. "Childhood years that can never be recaptured; the chance of education and full development lost in the struggle for survival in a refugee camp or settlement, now gone forever; the experience of dangers endured during flight, of rape or torture or forced conscription, cutting deep into the psyche of children."

The Nansen Medal is named after Norwegian diplomat and explorer Fridtjof Nansen, the first High Commissioner for Refugees under the League of Nations. It was created to focus attention on refugees and to give new impetus to the need for international support for the uprooted.

The Nansen Committee, which is chaired by the High Commissioner, is composed of members designated by the governments of Norway and Switzerland, and of representatives from the Council of Europe and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies.

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 102 (1995)




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Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

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Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

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Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

A UNHCR-funded project in Kabul, Afghanistan, is helping to keep returnee children off the streets by teaching them to read and write, give them room to play and offer vocational training in useful skills such as tailoring, flower making, and hairstyling.

Every day, Afghan children ply the streets of Kabul selling anything from newspapers to chewing gum, phone cards and plastic bags. Some station themselves at busy junctions and weave through traffic waving a can of smoking coal to ward off the evil eye. Others simply beg from passing strangers.

There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 street children in the Afghan capital alone. Among them are those who could not afford an education as refugees in Iran or Pakistan, and are unable to go to school as returnees in Afghanistan because they have to work from dawn to dusk to support their families. For the past seven years, a UNHCR-funded project has been working to bring change.

Posted on 12 November 2008

Afghan Street Children Turn from Beggars to Beauticians

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