UNHCR's annual award goes to UN Volunteers
The UN refugee agency today said it will award a special Nansen Medal to the United Nations Volunteers - the umbrella organisation for some 4,500 professionals who work in various UN field operations around the globe, often in difficult circumstances.
"Few deserve recognition more than these professionals who brave hardship and danger in some of the toughest places, receiving an allowance but no salary," said High Commissioner Sadako Ogata. "Some of our finest staff started as UN volunteers," she added.
An estimated 20,000 volunteers from 140 countries have served in various jobs in the UN's field agencies since the volunteer programme was set up 30 years ago. UN volunteers have worked in some of the UN's most challenging operations, from the Great Lakes crisis of central Africa and the Balkan wars to the more recent emergencies in Timor and the Caucasus.
The UNHCR award comes after the UN General Assembly declared 2001 the International Year of Volunteers - a move designed to get more people interested in voluntary work.
The Nansen Medal, the UNHCR's annual award given to groups and individuals who have distinguished themselves in refugee work, is named after Fridtjof Nansen - the world's first global refugee official who served as the Refugee Commissioner of the League of Nations in the wake of World War I.
The Nansen Committee, which bestows the Nansen medal, normally awards one decoration per year. This year, in a departure from the usual practice, it handed out five medals to mark UNHCR 50th anniversary.
The other four medals were announced in November and went to four former exiles who have served the refugee cause on four continents.