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South Sudanese surgeon wins 2018 Nansen Refugee Award

South Sudan. Surgeon providing life-line to 200,000 refugees named as UNHCR's 2018 Nansen Refugee Award winner
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South Sudanese surgeon wins 2018 Nansen Refugee Award

Evan Atar Adaha is honoured for his outstanding 20-year commitment in providing medical services to people forced to flee conflict.
25 September 2018 Also available in:
Dr. Evan Atar Adaha outside his tent in Bunj, South Sudan. "I am most happy when I realize that the work that I have done has saved somebody from suffering or has saved his life."

Evan Atar Adaha, surgeon and medical director at a hospital in north-eastern South Sudan, is the 2018 winner of the Nansen Refugee Award, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, announced on Tuesday.

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, the agency said.

His team carries out an average of 58 operations per week in difficult conditions at the hospital in Bunj, Maban County, with limited supplies and equipment.

The only x-ray machine is broken, the only surgical theatre is lit by a single light, and electricity is provided by generators that often break down. Since it is the only hospital in Upper Nile State, it is often crowded with patients and wards extend into the open air.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a peaceful referendum.

A civil war now in its fifth year has created South Sudan Africa’s worst refugee emergency in terms of numbers and the world’s third biggest refugee crisis.

"Thousands of lives have been saved."

“Dr. Atar’s work through decades of civil war and conflict is a shining example of profound humanity and selflessness,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.  

“Through his tireless efforts, thousands of lives have been saved, and countless men, women and children provided with a new chance to rebuild a future.”

Dr Atar will be presented at a news conference in Nairobi, Kenya, today, as the 2018 winner.

It will be attended by the UNHCR representative for South Sudan, Johann Siffointe, as well as Arnauld Akodjenou, UNHCR regional refugee coordinator for South Sudan, and representatives of the Swiss and Norwegian governments as the main sponsors of the award.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency
Check out this year’s amazing #NansenAward winner Dr. Atar - his hospital is the last hope for 144,000 refugees in South Sudan

This year UNHCR also announced four regional finalists. These are individuals or organisations short-listed out of more than 450 nominees for the main award and whose work UNHCR wanted to highlight as particularly outstanding.

The regional finalists are:

  • Samira Harnish (USA) for setting up Women of the World in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her organisation has helped more than 1,000 refugee women become self-reliant in the United States.
  • Mayor Andreas Hollstein and the volunteers of Altena, Germany for tireless work in welcoming refugees to their small town, taking in more than their official quota.
  • Tuenjai Deetes for devoting four decades of her life to ending statelessness in Thailand
  • Reclaim Childhood from Jordan for empowering 500 refugee girls through sport and building better links with their local communities.

Originally from Torit in southern South Sudan, Dr. Atar studied study medicine in Khartoum, Sudan, and afterwards practised in Egypt. In 1997, as war ravaged Blue Nile State, Dr. Atar volunteered to work there, establishing his first hospital in Kurmuk in the midst of a large-scale conflict, often under direct aerial bombing.

In 2011, increasing violence forced Dr. Atar to pack up his hospital in Sudan, fleeing to South Sudan with his staff and as much equipment as he could transport, a journey that took a month.  

"We treat everyone here regardless of who they are."

Arriving in Bunj, he set up his first surgical theatre in an abandoned local health centre, stacking tables to create a raised operating table. Since its establishment, Dr. Atar has worked tirelessly to secure funding and train other young people to become nurses and midwives.

“We treat everyone here regardless of who they are -- refugee, internally displaced, host community,” says Dr. Atar. “I am most happy when I realize that the work that I have done has saved somebody from suffering or has saved his life.”

South Sudan hosts nearly 300,000 refugees, of whom 92 per cent are Sudanese from the South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions close to the South Sudanese border.

UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award honours extraordinary service to the forcibly displaced.

The 2018 award ceremony will be held on 1 October in Geneva, Switzerland.

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The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on 14 December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee issues. It strives to ensure that everyone has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to voluntarily return home when conditions are conducive for return, integrate locally or resettle to a third country. UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1954 for its ground-breaking work in helping the refugees of Europe, and in 1981 for its worldwide assistance to refugees.