Formerly known as the Nansen Medal, this award is named after the late Norwegian arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who was appointed by the League of Nations, predecessor of the United Nations, to be the very first High Commissioner for Refugees in 1921. The award, consisting of a commemorative medal and a US$100,000 monetary prize is given annually to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees.
Born in 1861, Nansen was a scientist, a diplomat, a statesman and a humanist with a deep compassion for his fellow human beings. Eager to learn, Nansen became a pioneer in the field of applied science ranging from zoology, marine biology, oceanography and geology to anthropology and sociology. While still in his twenties, he acquired fame by crossing Greenland on skis in 1889.
But it is for his pioneering work on behalf of refugees that Nansen is most fondly remembered. After the First World War, the League of Nations asked Nansen in 1920 to organize the repatriation of some 450,000 prisoners of war. He succeeded by enlisting the support of governments and voluntary agencies.
Recognized as a charismatic leader, he was made the first High Commissioner for Refugees in 1921 – a post specially created by the League of Nations. He immediately undertook the formidable task of helping hundreds of thousands of refugees to survive, to acquire legal status and to attain economic independence. For the stateless refugees under his care, Nansen created the “Nansen passport,” which was ultimately ratified by 52 countries.
The International Red Cross and a number of governments then asked him to organize a relief programme for millions of victims of the Russian Famine of 1921-1922. Nansen won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922. He was involved in the negotiations which led to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne between the Greek and Turkish governments and later tried to help find a solution to the Armenian crisis. Nansen died in 1930.
To promote greater interest in the refugee cause and keep alive the humanitarian spirit of Nansen, the first UN High Commissioner for Refugees, G. H. van Heuven Goedhart, instituted the Nansen Refugee Award in 1954. The award is given out yearly to a person or group deemed to have performed outstanding services in supporting refugees. The aim of the Nansen Award is to focus attention on the plight of refugees and to encourage international assistance and cooperation for them.
The monetary prize that comes with the Nansen Award is donated by the governments of Norway and Switzerland to support a refugee project of the laureate’s choice.
2019 Nansen Award Winner
Azizbek Ashurov, a lawyer, whose work has supported the efforts of the Kyrgyz Republic in becoming the first country in the world to end statelessness, has been selected as the 2019 winner of the UN Refugee Agency’s Nansen Refugee Award.
Through his organization Ferghana Valley Lawyers Without Borders (FVLWB), he has helped well over 10,000 people to gain Kyrgyz nationality after they became stateless following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Among them, some 2,000 children will now have the right to an education and a future with the freedom to travel, marry and work
2019 Nansen Refugee Award Regional Winners
These are the every-day heroes going to extraordinary lengths to help forcibly displaced people in great need, who have been chosen as the regional winners of the UNHCR 2019 Nansen Refugee Award.
The prestigious annual prize honours individuals, groups and organizations who go to extraordinary lengths to protect refugees, displaced and stateless people around the world.
The regional winners for Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East were short-listed from more than 200 nominees.
- Africa: Evariste Mfaume, the founder of NGO Solidarité des Volontaires pour l’Humanité in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who champions the rights of Congolese people displaced by conflict and also refugees and their host communities.
- Americas: Bianka Rodriguez from El Salvador, a young trans woman and executive director of NGO COMCAVIS TRANS, who advocates for the rights of forcibly displaced LGBTI people in the country.
- Asia: Alberto Cairo, a physiotherapist in Afghanistan and head of the International Committee of the Red Cross orthopaedic programme, who has dedicated almost 30 years of his life to providing prosthetic limbs and helping find jobs for injured Afghans.
- Europe: Humanitarian Corridors, a ground-breaking cross-border initiative established with the Italian Government in 2015 to enable particularly vulnerable refugees to start a new life in safety in Italy.
- Middle East: Abeer Khreisha, a community volunteer in Jordan, known as ‘the mother of Syrians’ for her work helping refugees.
List of previous Awardees
Mr. Evan Atar Adaha, surgeon and medical director at a hospital in north-eastern South Sudan. The award is in recognition of Dr. Atar’s outstanding commitment and self-sacrifice in providing medical services to more than 200,000 people, including approximately 144,000 refugees from Sudan’s Blue Nile state.
Mr. Zannah Mustapha – a lawyer, school-founder and peace-maker from north east Nigeria. Mustapha was honoured during the Nansen Refugee Award ceremony on 2 October for his dedication and commitment to ensuring children and orphans affected by the conflict in Borno State can attend school.
A volunteer sea rescue team credited with saving thousands of lives during the refugee crisis, and a human rights activist who provided safety for thousands of the refugees arriving on Greek shores, are joint winners of the award.
Afghan refugee teacher Aqeela Asifi, who has dedicated her life to bringing education to refugee girls in Pakistan, has won the 2015 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award.
The award-winner is a network of nine women’s rights groups provides counsel and support for victims of abuse, and reaches out into communities to educate women to uphold their rights.
Sister Angélique Namaika wins for her work helping the survivors of displacement and abuse by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Democratic Republic of the Congo.