Luciano Pavarotti to receive Nansen Refugee Award

MODENA, Italy - The world-famous Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, is the recipient of this year's Nansen Refugee Award, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced Tuesday.

The Nansen Award Committee said it bestowed this year's prize on Maestro Pavarotti for his work on behalf of refugees and victims of conflict. It cited recent efforts by Maestro Pavarotti to refocus international attention on the plight of Afghans in Pakistan, one of the oldest and largest refugee populations in the world. Maintaining visibility and international support for the victims of such protracted refugee situations is a perennial problem for the international aid community.

The Nansen Refugee Award is given annually to individuals or organisations that have distinguished themselves in work on behalf of refugees. Maestro Pavarotti is the first Italian to receive the award since 1964.

UNHCR said Maestro Pavarotti, who has been the driving force behind various charity concerts for humanitarian causes - including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Guatemala, Cambodia, Liberia and Kosovo - has helped raise more funds for the UN refugee agency's work than any other private individual.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers was scheduled to announce the award to Maestro Pavarotti during a benefit concert in Modena, Italy, Tuesday night. The Modena concert, which is expected to raise about US $1.5 million, will benefit Afghan refugee children living in extremely difficult conditions in Pakistan. Appearing with Maestro Pavarotti in the televised concert will be Barry White, Tom Jones, Deep Purple, George Benson, Anastacia, Jarabe de Palo and several top Italian artists. Also participating is actor Michael Douglas, who has been named a UN Messenger of Peace by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The Nansen Refugee Award, named after Fridtjof Nansen - the renowned Norwegian polar explorer and the world's first international refugee official - was created in 1954. Previous recipients included Eleanor Roosevelt, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, Médecins Sans Frontières, the late Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere and the People of Canada.