Handicap International awarded Nansen Medal

Press Releases, 1 October 1996

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced Tuesday that the Nansen Medal will be awarded this year to the Franco-Belgian non-governmental organization Handicap International for its outstanding work with refugees.

High Commissioner Sadako Ogata will present the Nansen Medal at a ceremony Friday (4 October) at the Palais des Nations in Geneva to Dr. Jean-Baptiste Richardier, co-director and co-founder of Handicap International, and Patrick Segal, its vice president, who also is France's inter-ministerial delegate for handicapped people. They will accept the award on behalf of the organization.

In announcing this year's winner, Ogata underlined the extraordinary service of Handicap International to refugees as well as the enormous contribution the organization has made to the elimination of landmines.

"Wars leave a huge legacy when they end: these landmines don't know the difference between a soldier and a child,"declared the High Commissioner. "This abominable menace represents one of the biggest hurdles for UNHCR's repatriation programmes. Without Handicap International, hundreds of handicapped repatriated refugees from Cambodia, Mozambique and Bosnia could not have started a new life. My organization is greatly indebted to Handicap International."

Handicap International focuses its work on handicapped persons in developing countries. Doctors, physiotherapists and orthopaedic specialists of Handicap International work in all areas of conflict, helping those who have lost limbs due to wars or landmines. Two of its staff were killed while working in Afghanistan and Kurdistan.

Handicap International provides protheses to the victims; for the most part these are manufactured in the area using local materials. The organization also has rehabilitation and reintegration programmes for the handicapped.

Handicap International was established in 1982 in response to the refugee crisis in Cambodia. The organization, which has branches in France, Belgium, Denmark, United States and in Switzerland, is active in 35 countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America and in Eastern Europe.

UNHCR and Handicap International have worked closely for fifteen years on special programmes for handicapped refugees and returnees, as well as on awareness programmes on landmines. The organization works with UNHCR in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, former Yugoslavia, Mozambique and Tanzania. Handicap International is very active in the international campaign for a total ban on anti-personnel landmines.

The Nansen Medal this year includes a financial award of $100,000 a gift from the Norwegian government. This sum must be spent on a project for refugees or internally displaced persons, in consultation with UNHCR.

The Nansen Medal is named after the Norwegian diplomat and explorer Fridtjof Nansen, the first High Commissioner for Refugees under the League of Nations. It was created to focus attention on refugees and to give new impetus to the need for international support for forcibly displaced persons.

The Nansen Committee, which is chaired by Ogata, is composed of members designated by the Governments of Norway and Switzerland, and of representatives from the Council of Europe and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies.

Friday's award ceremony is open to the media and will be held in Salle XVIII, Palais des Nations, at 1300.