Nansen Refugee Award goes to advocate for boat people in Malta

News Stories, 18 September 2007

© UNHCR/A.Pace
Lawyer Katrine Camilleri updates a Congolese refugee client on her case.

GENEVA, September 18 (UNHCR) Katrine Camilleri has demonstrated her dedication to helping refugees who arrive in Malta, not only in a decade of work with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) but in a determination to continue in the face of threats that included an arson attack on her car and home.

The 37-year-old lawyer was named by the UN refugee agency on Tuesday as the 2007 winner of the Nansen Refugee Award, which is given to individuals or organizations that have distinguished themselves in work on behalf of refugees.

"The committee has chosen Dr. Katrine Camilleri of Malta in recognition of her exceptional dedication to the refugee cause and her outstanding contribution through Jesuit Refugee Service in the protection and assistance to refugees," said the official selection decision.

"The committee notes with appreciation the tireless efforts of Dr. Camilleri to lobby and advocate for refugees and is impressed by the political courage she has shown in dealing with the refugee situation in Malta. By rewarding Dr. Camilleri for her civic courage and for the inspiring example set by her actions, the Nansen Refugee Award Committee would like to honour all individuals who are working to improve the well-being of refugees."

The annual award, formerly known as the Nansen Medal, includes a US$100,000 grant from Norway and Switzerland for a refugee-related project of the winner's choice and is scheduled to be presented in October during the annual gathering in Geneva of UNHCR's governing Executive Committee. It is named after Norwegian Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who was appointed in 1921 by the UN's predecessor, the League of Nations, as the first High Commissioner for Refugees.

"Katrine Camilleri has worked courageously to protect refugees and asylum seekers," said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "Dr. Camilleri and JRS are key partners in helping UNHCR to fulfil our goal of assisting governments to identify refugees caught in migratory movements and responding to their needs."

Born in 1970 on the Mediterranean island of Malta, Camilleri came into contact with refugees when she began working in a small law firm after graduating from the University of Malta in 1994. After helping to prevent the deportation of a Libyan asylum seeker who risked persecution if returned home, her interest grew and in 1997 she started to work with the Malta office of JRS.

First as a volunteer, then part-time and eventually full-time, Camilleri helped to expand JRS's assistance. In 2000, she was referred the case of an asylum seeker in detention and others soon came forward to ask for legal assistance. JRS became the first organization to offer a professional legal service on a regular basis to detainees.

In 2002, the number of asylum seekers and economic migrants arriving in Malta by boat increased sharply a problem faced by European countries around the Mediterranean. Believing asylum seekers in detention to be in the greatest need, JRS shifted its focus increasingly to the detention centres.

Camilleri, a mother of two, devoted her energy to expanding JRS services, securing funding to employ more professional staff and to set up projects offering social work, health and education services to all refugees, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.

Camilleri leads the JRS Malta legal team of two lawyers and two case workers, which apart from handling asylum claims challenges detention in individual cases and monitors the treatment of those in the centres. Conscious of the need for more lawyers trained in refugee law, Camilleri helped set up a study unit for law students at the University of Malta in which students take cases, thus coming into contact with asylum seekers.

With the rise in the number of asylum seekers reaching Malta, irregular migration has become a high profile political issue. JRS raises public awareness about refugees, the right to asylum and intercultural issues. However, there has been a violent backlash from some people, which has shocked Maltese and drawn condemnation from the government.

Over the last year, JRS and 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 Camilleri's car and her front door, terrifying her family trapped inside.

The incident, she said, has shattered her own children's sense of invulnerability, but has not altered her desire to help asylum seekers risking their lives in flimsy boats to reach safety.

"I'm always impressed by how much hope they have and how much capacity in a sense, not only to keep hoping against hope, but to really make things happen," Camilleri told UNHCR.

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

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

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.