2007 Nansen Refugee Award goes to advocate for boat people in Malta

Press Releases, 18 September 2007

Tuesday 18 September 2007

GENEVA The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees today announced that this year's Nansen Refugee Award will go to Dr. Katrine Camilleri, a 37-year old lawyer with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Malta, who works to defend the rights of refugees and migrants.

"Katrine Camilleri has worked courageously to protect refugees and asylum seekers," said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "Dr. Camilleri and JRS are key partners in helping UNHCR to fulfil its goal of assisting governments to identify refugees caught in migratory movements and responding to their needs."

The Nansen Refugee Award is given annually to an individual or organisation for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. The Nansen Committee, which grants the award, said that it had chosen Dr. Camilleri in recognition of her exceptional dedication to the refugee cause.

"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. By making the award to Dr. Camilleri for her civic courage and for the inspiring example set by her actions, the Nansen Refugee Award Committee would like to honour all individuals who are working to improve the well-being of refugees," said the official selection decision.

"Katrine Camilleri is not only helping people here in Malta, but entering into a loving, respectful relationship with them," said Monsignor Paul Cremona, Archbishop of Malta.

With the rise in the number of both refugees and migrants reaching Malta by sea a phenomenon common to other countries around the world, irregular migration has become a high-profile political issue.

In response to the sharp escalation of arrivals in Malta, in 2002 JRS began to assist asylum seekers held in detention, establishing volunteer visitor and social work projects and facilitating access to healthcare. Since 1997, Dr. Camilleri has provided legal advice to hundreds of persons kept in administrative detention centres, helping them with their asylum claims and challenging their detention. Her efforts have focused on the most vulnerable, including victims of trauma or torture and survivors of sexual and gender based violence.

Over the last year, JRS and Dr. Camilleri have faced a series of attacks. Nine vehicles belonging to the Jesuits were burned in two separate incidents. This April, arsonists set fire to both Camilleri's car and her front door, terrifying her family trapped inside. The attacks shocked Maltese society and drew wide condemnation, including from the government.

In 2006, UNHCR presented a Ten-Point Plan of Action on Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration that sets out a number of measures to assist states in dealing with the challenges of managing migratory movements while safeguarding the right to claim asylum.

Every year, thousands of people risk their lives trying to reach Europe in overcrowded, often unseaworthy boats. Although a majority of them are economic migrants, some of them are refugees. UNHCR and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have called for more action to prevent further loss of life.

The Nansen Award Ceremony will take place in the headquarters of UNHCR in Geneva on 1 October 2007.