Yemeni NGO to receive Nansen Refugee Award for life-saving work

News Stories, 13 September 2011

© SHS
The Society for Humanitarian Solidarity patrols 600 km of the Yemeni coast to help boat arrivals on the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.

GENEVA, September 13 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency announced today that its annual Nansen Refugee Award will honour a Yemen-based non-governmental organization, the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS), for its life-saving work with refugees and migrants who make the treacherous sea journey to Yemen.

Every year thousands of refugees and migrants, desperate to escape violence, drought and poverty in the Horn of Africa, put their lives in the hands of human smugglers and cross the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in crowded and often unseaworthy boats. Some are beaten or abused, arriving traumatized and ill on the Yemeni coast.

So far in 2011, more than 60,000 people have made sea crossings to Yemen as many as the combined number of arrivals in the last three years. It is estimated that at least 120 people drowned trying to make the journey this year.

SHS was founded by Nasser Salim Ali Al-Hamairy in 1995 to help people arriving by boat from Somalia and other parts of the Horn of Africa, as well as the impoverished local communities that hosted them. While the number of arrivals was low in the initial years, it has risen sharply 16 years later. In recent weeks, daily arrivals have averaged more than 300 people.

Today, SHS staff work around the clock to monitor about a third of Yemen's 2,000 kilometre-long coastline, pick up survivors, provide emergency care and, all too often, bury those who die en route.

"Thousands of refugees owe their survival to the people working for the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, announcing the recipient of the Nansen Refugee Award in Geneva on Tuesday. "Their complete dedication to the service of mankind deserves this global recognition and support."

SHS founder Al-Hamairy, who is being honoured together with his staff of 290, said, "Winning the Nansen Award has given us a big boost. Our work is a humanitarian duty… that has to be done under any circumstance." He added that he would use the Nansen platform to call on the international community to "intensify efforts to improve the situation in Somalia to help dissuade people from attempting the risky crossing."

The Nansen Refugee Award is given annually to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. It includes a $100,000 prize that the winner can donate to a cause of his or her choice. It was created in 1954 in honour of Fritdjof Nansen, a Norwegian, scientist, explorer and statesman and the first League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Previous winners include British photojournalist Alixandra Fazzina, US Senator Edward Kennedy, Japanese optometrist Akio Kanai and Italian opera singer Luciano Pavarotti.

This year's Nansen Award Ceremony will take place in Geneva on October 3.