UNHCR chief presents Nansen Refugee Award to inspiring Congolese nun

News Stories, 30 September 2013

© UNHCR/M.Henley
1. UN High Commissioner for Refugee António Guterres (right) presents the 2013 Nansen Refugee Award medal to Sister Angélique Namaika of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Behind the winner are, from left to right, Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary General Jan Egeland, Swiss Ambassador to the United Nations Alexandre Fasel, and Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide

GENEVA, September 30 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Monday night presented the annual UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award to an inspiring Congolese nun in recognition of her work helping hundreds of displaced and abused women to rebuild their lives.

"This prize, this medal, is not only for me it is also for all the women, the girls and the children who have been abducted by the LRA [Lord's Resistance Army rebel group from Uganda]," Sister Angélique Namaika said after receiving the Nansen Medal from Guterres at a ceremony in Geneva's Bâtiment des Forces Motrices.

"I will never give up, because even if I help only one person it's already a success," added the 46-year-old Roman Catholic nun from Orientale province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at a ceremony attended by several hundred people, including delegates attending UNHCR's annual Executive Committee meeting,

Guterres said that he had heard and seen many bad things during his visits to refugees and other forcibly displaced people in Africa. "And it is when you look at Sister Angélique that all of a sudden your perspective also changes," he said. "And you believe that God has a hand. She is the hand of God."

Named after celebrated Norwegian polar explorer, diplomat, scientist and humanitarian, Fridtjof Nansen, the Nansen Refugee Award was established in 1954 to honour a person, group or organization for their outstanding work on behalf of the forcibly displaced.

Sister Angélique is the latest in a line of illustrious winners, recognized for her role in helping to transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who have been forced from their homes and abused by the LRA or other armed groups in the Dungu region of the DRC's Orientale province.

Many of those she helps through her Centre for Reintegration and Development have suffered abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape or other human rights abuses. Her one-on-one approach helps them recover from the trauma and damage. On top of the abuse they have suffered, these vulnerable women and girls are often ostracized by their own families and communities because of the stigma attached to sexual violence.

Sister Angélique helps these victims regain confidence and become self-sufficient by teaching them a trade and how to start a small business or by encouraging them to go back to school. Testimonies from these women show how she has turned around their lives, with many affectionately calling her "mother." Having been displaced by LRA violence in 2009, the Sister learned first had the pain of forced displacement.

Since being named this year's Nansen Refugee Award winner on September 17, Sister Angélique has received accolades and congratulations from people around the world. Earlier on Monday, UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie sent a message of warm congratulations and said Sister Angélique's work could "help to draw attention to the devastating effects of rape and sexual violence and the need for justice and help for survivors."

Best-selling Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, in a keynote speech at Monday's Geneva event, also praised the Nansen laureate, describing her as a lesson in compassion. The Award ceremony featured musical performances by British singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam. "It was brilliant to meet Sister Angélique and inspiring to perform for her," said Dido after singing.

Following the ceremony, Sister Angélique will travel to Rome, where she will be received at the Vatican by Pope Francis on 2 October before proceeding to Paris, Brussels and Oslo for other meetings. The award consists of a commemorative medal and a US$100,000 monetary prize donated by the governments of Norway and Switzerland to support a project of the laureate's choice.

The presentation of the 2013 Nansen prize followed the release earlier this month of a report about life for those displaced by LRA violence. Since 2008, hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee in DRC's north-eastern province of Orientale in some cases several times. Today, an estimated 320,000 of them are still living in displacement. The report, supported by UNHCR and the IDMC (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre), highlights why LRA violence has created such severe and long-lasting trauma for both the abductees and the hundreds of thousands of people still too afraid to return home.

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2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented Sister Angélique Namaika of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award at a gala ceremony in Geneva on Monday night.

Sister Angélique, through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, has helped transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who had been forced from their homes and abused by fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) or other armed groups. Many of those she helps suffered abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape or other human rights abuses.

The Roman Catholic nun helps survivors to heal by offering them the chance to learn a trade, start a small business or go to school. Testimonies from these women show the remarkable effect she has had on helping turn around their lives, with many affectionately calling her "mother."

The Award ceremony featured a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam.

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

Sister Angélique - Nansen Refugee Award CeremonyPlay video

Sister Angélique - Nansen Refugee Award Ceremony

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented Sister Angélique Namaika of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award in Geneva on Monday night September 30, 2013

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

Nansen Refugee Award: Pope Francis meets Sister AngéliquePlay video

Nansen Refugee Award: Pope Francis meets Sister Angélique

Pope Francis meets and blesses UNHCR's 2013 Nansen Refugee Award winner Sister Angélique Namaika in St Peter's Square, Vatican City.
Nansen Refugee Award: The Global Refugee CrisisPlay video

Nansen Refugee Award: The Global Refugee Crisis

At the 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award ceremony a moment was taken to reflect on the endless refugee plight.
Nansen Refugee Award: Past WinnersPlay video

Nansen Refugee Award: Past Winners

At the 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award ceremony a moment was taken to remember past Nansen Refugee Award laureates.