Mine clearers receive Nansen Award for "heroic" work in Lebanon

News Stories, 7 October 2008

© UNHCR/D.Favre
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presents the Nansen Refugee Award to Chris Clark, programme manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre &; South Lebanon.

GENEVA, October 7 (UNHCR) The head of the UN refugee agency praised the "heroic" work of mine clearers before presenting this year's prestigious Nansen Refugee Award to staff and partners of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC) for their key role in enabling hundreds of thousands of displaced people to resume a normal life in southern Lebanon.

"One of the most heroic types of humanitarian work is to demine or dismantle these devices in order to allow people to go back home and resume their lives," Guterres said Monday evening, before handing the Nansen Medal and certificates to Chris Clark, coordinator of UNMACC's Mine Action Programme in Lebanon, and to Jamal Hammoud, a Lebanese mine clearance supervisor.

The annual award, which comes with a medal and a cash prize of US$100,000 funded by Norway and Switzerland, is given out yearly to a person or group for outstanding services in supporting refugee causes.

"It is clearly a great honour and a privilege to receive this award, especially as it gives recognition to all deminers, those men and women, both Lebanese and international who have worked tirelessly to clear unexploded sub-munitions and landmines from south Lebanon," Clark, a decorated former British soldier, said in a ceremony held in Geneva's Palais des Nations on the first day of the annual meeting of UNHCR's governing Executive Committee.

The Nansen Award recognizes the work of UNMACC staff and almost 1,000 Lebanese and international mine clearers and supervisors from eight mine clearance organizations. Under UNMACC's Mine Action Programme, they have cleared some 150,000 bomblets scattered around southern Lebanon by Israeli-fired clusterbombs during the July-August 2006 war in the south.

The fighting forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, but when a ceasefire came into effect and they started returning home, many people found their homes and farmland contaminated by cluster munitions.

"They were shocked by an enemy which was awaiting them, an enemy that does not differentiate between soldiers or civilians, war or peace," Hammoud said at Monday's ceremony. He was among the scores of locals, including women, to join the humanitarian mission to clear the land of bomblets.

Millions of square metres of agricultural land have been freed up for use and Clark believes that clusterbombs will pose a negligible problem from the end of this year. But it has come at a cost 20 civilians and 14 deminers have been killed and scores injured.

The Nansen Selection Committee said it had chosen Clark and the team for their outstanding contribution to the safety and security of internally displaced people and returnees in Lebanon, as well as humanitarian workers. UNMACC was crucial in providing support to humanitarian operations in south Lebanon during the conflict and in the initial stages of the ceasefire, as well as in continuing clearance operations.

Clark has said this year's winners would like to use the award's US$100,000 cash prize to set up an olive press so that farmers in areas cleared of cluster munitions could produce their own oil at a small cost.

The Nansen Refugee Award, created in 1954, is named after late Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, the world's first international refugee official. Previous recipients include Eleanor Roosevelt, Médecins Sans Frontières, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, Luciano Pavarotti and Graça Machel.

Last year's Nansen winner was Katrine Camilleri, a 37-year-old lawyer from Malta who demonstrated her dedication to helping refugees arriving in Malta in the face of threats that included an arson attack on her car and home.

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The Nansen Refugee Award

The Nansen Refugee Award

Given to individuals or organizations for outstanding service in the cause of refugees.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency has named the British coordinator of a UN-run mine clearance programme in southern Lebanon and his civilian staff, including almost 1,000 Lebanese mine clearers, as the winners of the 2008 Nansen Refugee Award.

Christopher Clark, a former officer with the British armed forces, became manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre-South Lebanon (UNMACC-SL) n 2003. His teams have detected and destroyed tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and tens of thousands of mines. This includes almost 145,000 submunitions (bomblets from cluster-bombs) found in southern Lebanon since the five-week war of mid-2006.

Their work helped enable the return home of almost 1 million Lebanese uprooted by the conflict. But there has been a cost – 13 mine clearers have been killed, while a further 38 have suffered cluster-bomb injuries since 2006. Southern Lebanon is once more thriving with life and industry, while the process of reconstruction continues apace thanks, in large part, to the work of the 2008 Nansen Award winners.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency's Nansen Awards Committee has named Dr. Katrine Camilleri, a 37-year-old lawyer with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Malta, as the winner of the 2007 Nansen Refugee Award. The Committee was impressed by the political and civic courage she has shown in dealing with the refugee situation in Malta.

Dr. Camilleri first became aware of the plight of refugees as a 16-year-old girl when a priest visited her school to talk about his work. After graduating from the University of Malta in 1994, she began working in a small law firm where she came into contact with refugees. As Dr. Camilleri's interest grew in this humanitarian field, she started to work with the JRS office in Malta in 1997.

Over the last year, JRS and Dr. Camilleri have faced a series of attacks. Nine vehicles belonging to the Jesuits were burned in two separate attacks. And this April, arsonists set fire to both Dr. Camilleri's car and her front door, terrifying her family. The perpetrators were never caught but the attacks shocked Maltese society and drew condemnation from the Government of Malta. Dr. Camilleri continues to lead the JRS Malta legal team as Assistant Director.

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Burundian humanitarian worker Maggy Barankitse received the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award for her tireless work on behalf of children affected by war, poverty and disease. The Nansen medal was presented at a grand ceremony in Brussels by H.R.H. Princess Mathilde of Belgium and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Wendy Chamberlin.

Accepting the award, Barankitse said her work was inspired by one single goal: peace. "Accept your fellow man, sit down together, make this world a world of brothers and sisters," she said. "Nothing resists love, that's the message that I want to spread."

Sponsored by UNHCR corporate partner Microsoft, the ceremony and reception at Concert Noble was also attended by Belgium's Minister for Development Co-operation Armand De Decker, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel, renowned Burundian singer Khadja Nin, Congolese refugee and comedian Pie Tshibanda, and French singer and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Julien Clerc. Among others.

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

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