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Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the occasion of the award of the Nansen Refugee Award for 2003 to Dr. Annalena Tonelli, Geneva, 25 June 2003

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the occasion of the award of the Nansen Refugee Award for 2003 to Dr. Annalena Tonelli, Geneva, 25 June 2003

25 June 2003

(Check against delivery)

Monsieur le Président,
Membres du Comité Nansen,
Collègues et amis,

C'est un grand plaisir de vous souhaiter la bienvenue à la cérémonie de remise de la Distinction Nansen 2003. Chaque année la Distinction Nansen est attribuée en reconnaissance d'une contribution exceptionnelle pour la cause des réfugiés. Cette année la Distinction est décernée au Docteur Annalena Tonelli pour son travail en faveur des déshérités de Somalie, souvent des personnes déplacées ou rapatriées. Pendant 33 ans, elle a bravé les enlèvements, les brutalités physiques, les attaques des bandits et les menaces de mort pour mener à bien son combat de femme seule contre la tuberculose, le SIDA, l'illettrisme, la cécité, la malnutrition et les mutilations génitales.

La Distinction Nansen fut créée en 1954 afin de faire la promotion de la cause des réfugiés et garder en vie l'esprit de Fridtjof Nansen, premier Haut Commissaire pour les réfugiés de la période de la Ligue des Nations. La Distinction a été instituée dans l'espoir qu'une distinction dotée du nom de Nansen, attribuée uniquement en récompense d'un travail exceptionnel en faveur des réfugiés, aiderait à attirer l'attention du monde sur la souffrance des réfugiés et augmenterait l'aide internationale en leur faveur.

Aujourd'hui le Comité Nansen, composé de représentants de la Confédération helvétique, de la Norvège et du Conseil de l'Europe a décerné 59 Distinctions. Chaque récipiendaire a fait preuve de courage et de ténacité exceptionnels et de beaucoup de sacrifices pour défendre la cause des réfugiés. Les anciens lauréats sont issus de milieux professionnels très variés. Ils étaient des artistes, activistes, travailleurs sociaux, étudiants et leader religieux. Une fois même, la Distinction fut attribuée à une nation entière: le peuple du Canada.

We are particularly honoured that Margaret Mangan is able to be with us here today. Margaret, who is now 94, worked for UNHCR from 1954 to 1968. She wrote the first delivery speech for the 1955 Nansen Award, which was given to Ms. Eleanor Roosevelt and the Queen of the Netherlands. Her presence here today gives a unique historical perspective to this event.

This year, the Nansen Committee decided to have the Ceremony just after World Refugee Day, which as you know was on 20th June. The Nansen Award and World Refugee Day both aim at raising awareness about refugee issues amongst governments, parliamentarians, humanitarian organizations and the general public. I am pleased to announce that the 2004 Ceremony will be held in Barcelona, Spain, as part of the "Universal Forum of Cultures".

Dr. Tonelli's achievement is impressive, not only for the scale of its reach, but for the way in which she has been able to bring assistance to one of the most destitute populations in the world. She has sacrificed a great deal in order to serve others. Her work is an example of a profound generosity of spirit. Her humanity has touched the lives of countless individuals. It is a source of inspiration to all of us, and it provides hope to future generations.

Dr. Tonelli, in caring for others, you have always sought to avoid publicity, in your characteristically humble way. But allow us today to express our recognition of your outstanding achievements and your personal dedication to alleviating the suffering of others. Your humanitarian work, and the values that have guided you, are a powerful example to the international community of what can be achieved with minimal resources. As you yourself have always emphasized, however, much remains to be done for all people to be able to live in safety and dignity. The world needs many more selfless individuals like you, if it is to relieve the suffering still faced by millions of uprooted and marginalized people.

Today, we are here to celebrate your life, your vocation, the values that have inspired you, and the fruit of your efforts. In recognizing your achievement, the Nansen Committee seeks to encourage all those involved in activities aimed at relieving human misery, and particularly those involved in protecting and assisting refugees. Above all, it is to demonstrate that with limited means, but with passion and limitless energy, many lives can be saved, and many desperate people can be given hope.

May you have the strength to continue your excellent work.

Thank you.