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Lubbers to present the Nansen Refugee Award

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Lubbers to present the Nansen Refugee Award

24 June 2003

24 June 2003

GENEVA - UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, on Wednesday, June 25, will formally present this year's Nansen Refugee Award to Italian charity worker Annalena Tonelli.

The award ceremony will be held at the Musée Ariana in Geneva, Switzerland, at 1800 hrs (Central European Time). It will be attended by Swiss Confederation President Pascal Couchepin and the soprano, Barbara Hendricks, UNHCR's Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador.

The 60-year-old Italian was chosen by the Nansen Committee for this year's award in recognition of her selfless dedication in service to Somali communities. Dr. Tonelli, a lawyer turned health worker, has spent the last 33 years working among Somalis in north-east Kenya and Somalia - the last six years in Borama, a far-flung town in north-west Somalia, also called Somaliland.

With support from some of her personal friends, Annalena, as she is known to the Borama community, has set up a 200-bed hospital and mobile outreach clinics to support her decades-long fight against tuberculosis among the nomadic Somali, many of them returned refugees. Her friends have helped her raise funds for public awareness about HIV/AIDS and the harmful effects of female genital mutilation (FGM), widely practised by the Somali.

Announcing Dr. Tonelli's nomination in April this year, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers noted that she had chosen to live simply and humbly, taking no payment for her tireless work.

"Dr. Tonelli lives a modest life, eating the same food she gives her patients," Lubbers said. "Over the past three decades, and particularly in these troubled and rapidly changing times, her quiet devotion to helping those in need is living proof that individuals can still make a tremendous difference."

The Nansen Refugee Award, which includes a $100,000 grant for a refugee project of the recipient's choice, is given annually to individuals or organisations that have distinguished themselves in work on behalf of refugees.

The award named after Fridtjof Nansen - world-famous Norwegian polar explorer and the world's first international refugee official - was created in 1954. Previous recipients include Eleanor Roosevelt, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, Médecins Sans Frontières, the late Tanzanian President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, and the Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

Last year, the medal was awarded to the captain, crew and owner of the Norwegian container ship, "Tampa", which rescued hundreds of shipwrecked asylum seekers in the Indian Ocean in August 2001.