Statement by Wendy Chamberlin, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, at the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award, Brussels, June 22, 2005


Your Royal Highness, Minister De Decker, Commissioner Michel, dear Maggy, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for UNHCR to honour Marguerite Barankitse tonight, and I am grateful to all of you for joining us.

As the High Commissioner has said, Maggy has been known as the "Angel of Burundi" ever since civil war broke out in Burundi in 1993. On a bloody day in October of that year, Maggy herself was tied up, beaten, and forced to witness the massacre of many of her Hutu neighbours. She prayed for the survival of her seven adopted children, both Hutu and Tutsi. On that day, Maggy Barankitse found the courage, and love, to survive and to rescue others.

Her rescue mission continues. Every day since then she has worked with passion - not only for the survival of all children, but to teach children of different backgrounds that it is possible to live together and to love each other. Her success has been remarkable.

In her own words, Maggy's work consists of "Lighting candles to fight back the darkness". She epitomizes courage in a region that has known some of the worst ethnic conflict in modern history. Not only has Maggy consistently raised her voice against ethnic hatred and violence, but in doing so, she has acted on behalf of the most vulnerable and powerless - children who have lost their parents as a result of war or AIDS, displaced people driven from their homes, and refugees returning with only the clothes on their backs.

Maggy's non-governmental agency, Maison Shalom, has saved the lives of thousands of orphaned children from Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Refugee women and children coming back to Burundi after years of exile in refugee camps in the region find shelter and support at Maison Shalom. Housing and health care, AIDS prevention, peace education, vocational training, family reunification - these are all the daily bread of Maggy and her colleagues at the Maison Shalom.

Through her work, Marguerite Barankitse sends a message of hope for the future. Her actions are clear evidence that individual courage and commitment can make a difference in our world. Thank you for joining us this evening to recognize her exceptional humanitarian spirit and her extraordinary achievement. UNHCR is honoured to recognize Marguerite Barankitse, "the Angel of Burundi", with the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award.