The late Senator Edward Kennedy's wife accepts Nansen Refugee Award in Washington ceremony

News Stories, 29 October 2009

© UNHCR/E.Hockstein
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presents the Nansen Refugee Award to Victoria Kennedy on behalf of her late husband, Senator Edward Kennedy.

WASHINGTON, United States, October 29 (UNHCR) UNHCR's annual Nansen Refugee Award was presented to the wife of the late Senator Edward Kennedy at a ceremony in Washington where friends and colleagues paid tribute to his life-long commitment to refugee rights.

In presenting the prestigious award, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, praised the "vision and commitment" of Senator Kennedy's support for the forcibly displaced. "Simply put, I and the staff of UNHCR could not do our jobs" if it were not for the work of Kennedy, he said.

Joining Guterres in presenting the award were Elisabeth Rasmusson, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council and Ambassadors Wegger Strommen of Norway and Urs Ziswiler of Switzerland, whose countries sponsor the US$100,000 cash prize that comes with the Nansen Medal.

Accepting the award on behalf of her husband, Victoria Kennedy announced that the money would be donated to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, where it will be used to "train the next generation of leaders dedicated to the cause of refugee advocacy so that protecting refugees will never be a back-burner issue.

"Ted Kennedy was a son of privilege who became a tireless advocate of those who have lost everything," said Victoria Kennedy. Her husband "would have cherished" the Nansen Award, she added.

National Public Radio correspondent, Deborah Amos, who compered the event, announced at the end of the programme that the Boston-based Kovler Foundation was matching the Nansen cash prize.

Senator Kennedy was selected by the Nansen Committee earlier this year in recognition of his work in establishing US refugee admissions, resettlement and asylum programmes that directly helped millions of persecuted individuals to find protection and start new lives in the United States. He was the chief sponsor of more than 70 refugee-related measures and was instrumental in codifying international refugee obligations into US law.

The Nansen Refugee Award is given annually to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. It was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, legendary Norwegian polar explorer, scientist and the League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Individual past winners include Eleanor Roosevelt, French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Tanzania's President Julius Nyerere, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, Graça Machel and late Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti. Humanitarian organizations to win have included the League of Red Cross Societies. Médecins Sans Frontières, Handicap International and the UN Volunteers. In 1986, the Nansen went to the people of Canada the only country to have received the award as a nation.

By Tim Irwin In Washington, DC, United States