Lawyer Azizbek Ashurov, the winner of the 2019 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award, pictured in Kyrgyzstan.
© UNHCR/Chris de Bode

Nansen Refugee Award

Kyrgyz lawyer is the 2019 UNHCR Nansen Refugee 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. 

As part of the Soviet Union, with no internal borders in place, people moved across Central Asia with internal documentation, acquiring residency and getting married. After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 and the formation of new states, many people became stranded across newly established borders, often with now invalid Soviet passports or no means to prove where they were born. This left hundreds of thousands of people stateless throughout the region, including in Kyrgyzstan.

Statelessness affects millions of people worldwide, depriving them of legal rights or basic services and leaving them politically and economically marginalized, discriminated against and particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Motivated by his own family’s difficult experience of achieving citizenship after arriving from Uzbekistan in the aftermath of the dissolution, Ashurov helped to found FVLWB in 2003 to offer free legal advice and assistance to vulnerable displaced, stateless and undocumented people in the southern part of Krygyzstan.

Ashurov and FVLWB formed mobile legal teams which travelled to remote areas of the south of the country to find vulnerable and socially marginalized groups. In their mountainous country, the mobile legal teams relied on a battered four-wheel drive or travelled on horseback.

This work in collaboration with the Kyrgyz government resulted in the country announcing in in July this year that it had ended statelessness.

2019 Nansen Refugee Award Regional Winners

An activist who brings together communities torn apart by conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; a champion of LGBTI rights in El Salvador; a physiotherapist who gets injured Afghans back on their feet; a volunteer who helps Syrians start over in Jordan and an organization negotiating safe routes to Italy for refugees.

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.

They are:

  • 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.