2017 Winner

Visionary Nigerian teacher wins UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

Zannah Mustapha, a champion for the safety and education rights of displaced children growing up amid violence in northeastern Nigeria, is the 2017 winner of the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award.


  • Mr Mustapha and his son who is enrolled in a nursery class at the school. Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School (I), Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.
    Mr Mustapha and his son who is enrolled in a nursery class at the school. Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School (I), Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. © UNHCR/ Rahima Gambo
  • Students of Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School (I) during P.E., Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.
    Students of Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School (I) during P.E., Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. © UNHCR/ Rahima Gambo
  • Students at Mustapha's school in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria line up for morning assembly.
    Students at Mustapha's school in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria line up for morning assembly. © UNHCR/Rahima Gambo
  • Mr Mustapha and the students of Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School at a morning assembly. Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School (I), Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.
    Mr Mustapha and the students of Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School at a morning assembly. Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School (I), Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. © UNHCR/ Rahima Gambo
  • Mr Mustapha stands outside his third school, being built next to the Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School (II) on the banks of the River Gadabul. The school will enroll mature students who have missed out on their education due to the conflict. Hostels will allow girls and boys to stay overnight.
    Mr Mustapha stands outside his third school, being built next to the Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School (II) on the banks of the River Gadabul. The school will enroll mature students who have missed out on their education due to the conflict. Hostels will allow girls and boys to stay overnight. © UNHCR/ Rahima Gambo
  • Ayuba Mustapha, 8, and his best friend Adam Alhaji, 8, and Abubakar Muhammed, 8, Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School (I), Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.
    Ayuba Mustapha, 8, and his best friend Adam Alhaji, 8, and Abubakar Muhammed, 8, Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School (I), Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. © UNHCR/ Rahima Gambo
  • Fannah Mohammed Ali, 16, at Treasures Richfield College. Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.
    Fannah Mohammed Ali, 16, at Treasures Richfield College. Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. © UNHCR/Rahima Gambo
  • Mr Mustapha and the students of Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School before morning assembly, Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School (I), Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.
    Mr Mustapha and the students of Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School before morning assembly, Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School (I), Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. © UNHCR/Rahima Gambo
  • Students of Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School (I) during P.E., Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.
    Students of Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School (I) during P.E., Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. © UNHCR/Rahima Gambo

Mustapha founded a school in 2007 in Maiduguri – the capital of Borno State and the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency. The school has stayed open throughout the conflict with Boko Haram, which has seen some 20,000 killed across the Lake Chad region and millions more displaced.

The school provides a free education, as well as free meals, uniforms and health care to children affected by violence. Those orphaned by the conflict on both sides are welcomed into Mustapha’s classrooms as a sign of the reconciliation he hopes to achieve in the region.

“Education is one of the most powerful tools for helping refugee children overcome the horrors of violence and forced displacement.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi

Mustapha’s work in the region also includes mediating between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government. His efforts have resulted in the release of more than 100 kidnapped Chibok school girls. More recently, Mustapha donated acres of his own land to 800 displaced families. Building a water irrigation pump and shelter, these families are now able to support themselves and sell their produce at local markets.

Nansen Refugee Award winner's school builds peace and hope

"This school promotes peace. It is a place where every child matters," he added. "These children shall be empowered, empowered in such a way that they can stand on their own." Zannah Mustapha

Over a decade, the school has grown from 36 students to 540. Desperate for an education, thousands more children have added their names to its waiting list. In 2016, Mustapha opened a second school just a few kilometres away from the first. Eighty-eight children, all of whom have fled conflict in the region, walk through its classroom doors each day.


2017 Regional Runners-Up

In 2017, the Nansen Refugee Award also recognised five inspirational runners-up from around the world. Each runner-up was selected from a different global region.

In 2018, regional runners-up will also be selected and announced in September. 

Africa

CIYOTA

Refugee-led organisation transforms education in Uganda

CIYOTA was formed by four teenage refugees in Kywangali refugee camp, Uganda. The group has transformed the education system, set up a primary school and offer scholarships to secondary education.

Americas

Friar Tomás González Castillo

The Mexican Friar providing a safe haven for refugees

Friar Tomas has dedicated his entire life to protecting refugees and migrants in Mexico. His shelter "La 72" has become a beacon of hope and protection for thousands of desperate families escaping violence in Central America. 

Asia

Brother Bernard Wirth

One man has become lifeline for refugees in detention

Brother Bernard has dedicated the last twenty years of his life to supporting refugees and asylum seekers in detention in Bangkok; he offers guidance, and fundraises to secure bail.

Europe

Hej Framling!

Sweden welcomes refugees through sport

Hej Framling! (Hello Stranger!) is integrating refugees into Swedish life using the things Swedes are most passionate about – outdoor activities.

Middle East and North Africa

Dr. Ihsan Ezedeen

The 'doctor of the poor' in Damascus

Dr. Ezedeen is supporting thousands of displaced Syrians in Jaramana city, Damascus. Offering free health care, the Doctor works day and night to support people forced to flee their homes in war-torn Syria.