Nansen Medal, 18 September 2006
Dr Katrine Camilleri, the 2007 winner of the Nansen Refugee Award, has used a firm belief in human rights and an education in law to bring assistance to refugees, even in the face of violent threats against her organisation, herself and her family.
Camilleri was born on 24 February 1970 on the Mediterranean island of Malta. After graduating from the University of Malta in 1994, she began working in a small law firm, where she came into contact with refugees. Katrine's interest grew and she started to work with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) office in Malta in 1997, first as a volunteer, then on a part-time and eventually full-time basis.
JRS Malta was but a fledgling organisation when Camilleri started to offer legal services to refugees and asylum seekers in the community. In 2000, she was referred the case of an asylum seeker in detention; soon other detainees came forward to ask for legal aid. At the time, no services were offered in the centres and JRS became the first organisation to offer a professional service on a regular basis to persons kept in administrative detention centres, including asylum-seekers.
In 2002, the number of asylum seekers reaching Malta by boat increased sharply – a situation seen in many European Mediterranean countries. The young mother of two devoted her energy to expanding JRS services, securing funding to employ more professional staff and set up new projects offering social work, health and education services to all refugees, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity.
Camilleri leads the JRS Malta legal team of two lawyers and two case workers. Conscious of the need to increase the number of lawyers trained in refugee law, Camilleri also help set up a study unit for law students at the University of Malta.
With the rise in the number of asylum seekers, irregular migration has become a high-profile political issue. Over the past year, some opponents of the asylum process turned to violence. First a number of vehicles owned by the Jesuits were burned. Then in April 2006 an arson attack destroyed the car of Camilleri and set fire to her home. She and her family, although trapped inside, were unharmed. She resumed her work with refugees, determined not to be intimidated.
"The Committee notes with appreciation the tireless efforts of Dr. Camilleri to lobby and advocate for refugees. We are impressed by the political courage she has shown in dealing with the refugee situation in Malta," read the decision of the Nansen Refugee Award Committee.