UNHCR High Profile Alumni
Since its foundation more than 60 years ago, UNHCR has worked with a number of celebrities and other prominent personalities who have lent their time, voices and energy to the refugee cause and UNHCR's operations as well as using their influence to bring change. This section pays tribute to these people, including former goodwill ambassadors, and salutes their dedication and service in upholding and supporting the rights of forcibly displaced people, and helping to provide for their needs, worldwide. Some are dead, none are forgotten.
Since the 1980s, UNHCR has appointed a number of goodwill ambassadors, who enjoy a special relationship with the refugee agency and have shown particular commitment to its work. They collaborate with us to advocate for refugees with policy makers, and to help raise awareness and funds. Over the years, the role of the goodwill ambassadors, and their impact, has grown in importance. Others have had a less formal relationship with UNHCR, but their support has also been invaluable.
Past UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors range from actors Richard Burton, Sophia Loren and James Mason to musician Udo Jürgens, singer Arja Saijonmaa and fashion legend Giorgio Armani. The Oscar-winning actor, Yul Brynner, was a special consultant and conductor Riccardo Muti an honorary ambassador.
Italian operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti, named United Nations Messenger of Peace in 1998, captivated the world for decades with his powerful voice and personality. From his 1961 debut (in the north Italian city of Reggio Emilia) as Rodolfo in "La Bohème" until his death in 2007, Pavarotti soared high in the world of opera, while winning a legion of fans outside the classical music world with his charm and warmth. He was noted for his work on behalf of refugees and used concerts and media appearances to raise funds and bring to attention the suffering of refugees. His annual "Pavarotti and Friends" concerts brought together some of the world's great musicians and raised funds for UNHCR projects in Kosovo, Pakistan, Zambia and Iraq. In 2001, Pavarotti was presented with the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award in recognition of his outstanding service to the cause of refugees.
The Finnish singer, actress, humanitarian and political activist Arja Saijonmaa is known for her long-standing commitment to human rights. Her dedication to the refugee cause contributed to public awareness and understanding for the forcibly displaced. An active campaigner, she has written articles about refugees for publications around the world. After her appointment as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Saijonmaa visited refugee camps in Africa, Asia and South America and produced a film about her experience in Africa.
One of the most successful bands in Austria and Germany, The Schürzenjäger made a name for themselves early on for their straightforward volksmusik (folk music). By incorporating elements of rock and pop, to international acclaim, they became one of the best known acts in the European music scene. At the height of their appeal, they became UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors in 1998 and helped raise awareness of refugee issues among their global audience. The band folded in 2007.
Jack Thompson is one of Australia's most versatile actors of film and television. With a career dating back to the late 1960s, Thompson made a name for himself at home and overseas in films such as "The Man from Snowy River" and "Breaker Morant." He used his popularity to help bring attention to the issue of refugees. As a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador he was active in spreading awareness about Cambodian refugees and produced a documentary for UNHCR on the subject. He supported the establishment in 1991 of an NGO for underprivileged children, Krousar Thmey, which continues to work provide hope and a future for the young.