Nansen Award winners distribute cows to Lebanese farmers

News Stories, 22 December 2008

© UNHCR Lebanon
Bovine Business: A dairy farmer with some of the cows in Khiam village.

KHIAM, Lebanon, December 22 (UNHCR) The people of Khiam in southern Lebanon rely heavily on agriculture, especially dairy farming, to make a living. So the brief war that ravaged the south in 2006 was devastating, with many losing cattle and large tracts of land left off limits for months because of clusterbombs.

On Saturday, the winners of this year's Nansen Refugee Award arrived in the village with some welcome gifts six healthy cows. The UN Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC) hopes the animals will help stimulate the economic recovery of the village of 3,500 people from the damage caused by the conflict between Israeli troops and the Hezbollah militia.

The Nansen Award was given to the Lebanese and international mine clearers who worked for UNMACC in clearing southern Lebanese villages and agricultural land of more than 150,000 bomblets scattered by clusterbombs, allowing hundreds of thousands of displaced people to return home.

UNHCR's most prestigious annual prize also comes with US$100,000, provided by the Swiss and Norwegian government for use in assistance and protection projects for the displaced. UNMACC has chosen to use the money to help agricultural communities get back on their feet in Khiam and six other villages.

"It was clear to us that there was a need to assist farmers, who were the most affected because of the presence of cluster munitions on their land," said UNMACC spokeswoman, Dalia Farran. "We are giving them more than cows, we are giving them hope. We are also giving the villagers a sense of self-reliance."

Some 300 people will benefit from the cattle distribution project in the seven villages. In Khiam on Saturday, dairy farmers gathered eagerly at the municipality building for a draw to decide the new owners. All of them had lost cows, their sole source of income, during the war and many lacked the funds to replace them and had to find other work.

"During the war, I lost 16 cows. Only two calves survived the 33 days of conflict. My land was full of cluster munitions. I lost everything," Ali Abdo Khreiss, one of the lucky winners, said after the draw.

The loss off their main asset had a huge economic impact on the dairy farmers of Khiam, and this had a knock-on effect for the whole village. "Taking care of cows was a family business and it was a profitable sector. They were self-reliant and satisfied," said Nayef Khreis, a member of the municipality. "After the war, most of them had to work for corporate farms as daily workers."

But with dairy cows, people could live off the 20-25 kilogrammes of milk per day and make some money on top of that to live comfortably. "We live from the cow's milk, butter, and yogurt. We raise our kids from these dairy products," explained Mohamad, a father of four from a neighbouring village.

The UNMACC cattle distribution will be welcomed by the southern Lebanese, but a lot more needs to be done to help revive the agricultural sector in the area. "The agricultural sector remains neglected in south Lebanon," said Mohamad Zaher, who works for a local environmental agency that is implementing the UNMACC programme. He added that compensation had been paid to industries, but "those farmers were forgotten."

The Nansen Award is named after the Norwegian arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who was appointed in 1921 by the UN's predecessor, the League of Nations, to be the very first High Commissioner for Refugees. The Award, consisting of a medal and the US$100,000 monetary prize, is given out yearly to a person or group for outstanding services in supporting refugee causes. Previous recipients include Eleanor Roosevelt, Médecins Sans Frontières, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, Luciano Pavarotti and Graça Machel.

By Laure Chedrawi in Khiam, Lebanon




UNHCR country pages

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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