Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the occasion of the award of the Nansen Refugee Award for 2002 to Captain Arne F. Rinnan and the crew of the MV Tampa vessel, Oslo, 20 June 2002
(Check against delivery)
Members of the Nansen Committee,
Colleagues and friends,
It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this year's Nansen Refugee Award ceremony. Each year the Nansen Award is given in recognition of an outstanding contribution to the refugee cause. This year's Award goes to Captain Arne F. Rinnan, the crew of the MV Tampa vessel, and its owners, Wilh. Wilhelmsen ASA, for their courageous efforts in rescuing hundreds of shipwrecked asylum seekers in the Indian Ocean last August.
In 1954, UNHCR established the Nansen Refugee Award to promote global interest in refugees, and to keep alive the spirit of Fridtjof Nansen, the first high commissioner for refugees in the League of Nations period. The award was instituted in the belief that an honour named after Nansen, and given for outstanding service to refugees, would help to focus attention on their suffering and increase international support for efforts to meet their needs.
To date, the Nansen Committee has awarded 58 Nansen Medals. Each of the recipients has, in a special way, put tremendous time, energy and commitment into furthering the refugee cause. The previous recipients comprise a wide range of individuals from different professional backgrounds. They include social workers, students, political figures, artists, activists, and religious leaders. The list also includes NGOs. On one occasion, the Award went to an entire nation: the People of Canada.
The Nansen Committee decided to hold this year's award ceremony on 20 June, which is World Refugee Day. Both the Nansen Refugee Award and World Refugee Day highlight the need for a larger commitment by decision-makers, humanitarian organizations and private individuals to protecting and assisting people who are forced to flee their homes and their countries to seek safety elsewhere.
Wilh. Wilhelmsen ASA has a long record of rescues at sea. Since 1977, the company's vessels have saved more than 1,300 people in various situations. Captain Rinnan was in charge of the MV Tampa when it rescued 438 shipwrecked boat people in the Indian Ocean on 26 August 2001. Despite the risk of substantial delays and large financial losses to the company, and despite the fact that the ship was unequipped to accommodate hundreds of passengers, the ship altered its course to rescue the asylum seekers. All the risks involved did not prevent them from going out of their way to help these desperate asylum seekers reach safety.
In giving this year's Nansen Refugee Award to the MV Tampa team, the Nansen Committee wishes to recognize the team's valuable contribution to the refugee cause. The Committee deeply appreciates the team's noble and principled humanitarian action, and its adherence to the time-honoured code of chivalry at sea. The Committee acknowledges that the manner in which the team fulfilled its international obligations towards people in distress reflected the true spirit and commitment of Fridtjof Nansen.
Today's award has a broader symbolism. By recognizing the efforts of the MV Tampa team, the Nansen Committee also wishes to thank, honour and encourage all individuals who in their private capacity have contributed to improving the well-being of asylum seekers and refugees.