2021 Nansen Refugee Award celebrates 'bravery and dedication' of Yemeni aid group
The co-founder of a Yemeni humanitarian organization whose team stayed on the ground during the worst of the country’s fighting to help their displaced compatriots tonight accepted the 2021 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award in a special virtual ceremony, calling it “a moment of great pride and joy” for the organization.
The Jeel Albena Association for Humanitarian Development is based in the Red Sea port city of Hudaydah, which has experienced some of the most intense clashes of the six-year conflict. It is being honoured for its role in providing emergency shelters and other vital services to more than 18,000 internally displaced people (IDPs).
Speaking via video link from the Yemeni capital Sana’a, Jeel Albena’s head and co-founder Ameen Jubran described the award as welcome recognition for the work he and his colleagues have done, despite the often “arduous journey” they have faced.
“We stayed in Yemen through every emergency and helped people through intense fighting, floods, cholera and now a COVID-19 outbreak,” Jubran said. “Along the way I lost friends and colleagues to armed violence. I witnessed waves of fighting and experienced displacement along with thousands of others.”
"We stayed in Yemen through every emergency and helped people through fighting, floods, cholera and now a COVID-19 outbreak."
Yemen’s long-running conflict, which began in 2015, has created what the UN has described as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, where today some 21 million people – 80 per cent of the population – require humanitarian assistance, more than 4 million have been driven from their homes, and millions are on the brink of famine.
The Nansen Refugee Award is usually presented in a glittering ceremony in Geneva, where the UN Refugee Agency has its headquarters, but for the second year running this year’s event was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, with participants in several continents interacting via videoconference.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi applauded the “bravery and dedication” of Jeel Albena’s staff and volunteers, noting that some 40 per cent of them had themselves been forced to flee during the fighting.
“I could not be more honoured to present this award to Ameen and to his colleagues,” Grandi said. “The extraordinary work carried out by you and your team and your perseverance in helping Yemenis from all backgrounds is an example of the humanity, compassion, and dedication that this award recognizes.”
During his acceptance speech, Jubran described how his organization was drawing on traditional skills and materials to provide displaced families with shelters made from mats of woven palm fronds known as khazaf – a process that also provides vital employment.
“Why do I take great pride in something [so] simple?” Jubran asked. “Because a simple hut made of palm leaves provides a roof over the heads of those who have lost their homes. It provides skills and a source of income to many displaced families [and] in return it is supporting local markets. Above all, the materials we use are recyclable and environmentally friendly.”
The Jeel Albena team are the latest in a long line of everyday heroes to receive the award, named after the first High Commissioner for Refugees, the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen.
This year’s virtual ceremony featured an appearance by Fridtjof Nansen’s great-grandson Nicolai, who examined his illustrious ancestor’s history and legacy, as well as musical performances by Ugandan singer, songwriter and actor Maurice Kirya and Russian-Tajik singer and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Manizha.
Lebanese TV presenter and journalist Raya Abirached, who this year became a UNHCR Regional Goodwill Ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa, was master of ceremonies. A live stream of the ceremony is available on UNHCR’s YouTube channel.