8 October, Kyiv, Ukraine – On the occasion of the 160th anniversary of the birth of Fridtjof Nansen, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Norway, in cooperation with the Institute of International Relations of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, held a round table titled “The importance of humanitarian work and the ideas of Fridtjof Nansen to address the crisis of forced displacement”.
The event was celebrating the outstanding contribution of the Norwegian researcher, scientist, and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen, to developing the international system of protection of people fleeing conflicts and persecutions.
Among the speakers were Mr. Erik Svedahl, Ambassador of Norway to Ukraine, Ms. Karolina Lindholm Billing, UNHCR Representative in Ukraine, Mr. Petro Synyavsky, Head of Department for Foreign and Stateless Persons at the State Migration Service of Ukraine, as well as researchers from Ukraine and Norway: Steinar Bryn, Olha Poyedynok, Ihor Mingazutdinov, Sergiy Makovsky, Borys Babin, Inna Semenenko, Olena Bordelovska and Maksym Butkevych.
“Today, we honor the memory of one of the most remarkable Norwegians in history. In Ukraine, Nansen is known for his humanitarian work which helped overcoming the Great Famine and its consequences. For this, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922. He frequently visited Soviet Ukraine and Kharkiv, which was the capital at the time. Today, his courage and compassion inspire us to address the pressing issue of forced displacement around the world,” said Erik Svedahl, Ambassador of Norway to Ukraine, at the opening of the round table.
“After working in various countries on refugee protection, I can now say that access to official documentation for displaced individuals remains one of the core activities of UNHCR. Protection of refugees, humanitarian support, advocacy activities with governments are all part of UNHCR’s mandate today. Globally, we are currently seeing the largest displacement crisis ever. Despite restrictions on movement due to the pandemic, the number of people displaced by conflict, persecution and human rights violation rose to 82.4 million in 2020. Fridtjof Nansen remains an inspiration for us, a true humanitarian hero, who had faith in humanity”, declared Karolina Lindholm Billing, UNHCR Representative in Ukraine.
Steinar Bryn, dialogue worker, representative of the Nansen Academy in Lillehammer, Norway, spoke about the peaceful dialogue methodology he developed and applied in Western Balkans and Ukraine. “During our dialogue seminars, we talk about the Nansen spirit and how it gives inspiration and hope. Nansen truly believed that a man’s actions could change the world. The impossible only takes a little longer: he proved it every time with his own actions”, he said.
“Ukraine is responsive to international developments and implements best practices into its legislation. Solely granting refugees access to the shelter system is not enough. The critical step is the integration of refugees into Ukrainian society. A whole section of a new draft law is devoted to this very issue. I would like to commend UNHCR for being receptive. We are now considering upgrading temporary accommodation facilities for refugees and possibly constructing a new building,” said Petro Synyavsky, Head of Department for Foreign and Stateless Persons at the State Migration Service of Ukraine.
Fridtjof Nansen was the 1st High Commissioner for Refugees to be appointed by the League of Nations in 1921. After WWI, he helped coordinate the repatriation of 450,000 prisoners of war in Russia, Germany and former Austria-Hungary. Nansen significantly contributed to the humanitarian support of Ukraine during the Great Famine of 1921. He established the first-ever legal travel document for stateless individuals, the Nansen passport, which was recognized by 52 countries. Fridtjof Nansen died in 1930. The Nansen International Office for Refugees was established by the League of Nation shortly after his death. From 1930 to 1939, hundreds of thousands of war refugees received support from the international organization.
Nansen’s name is associated with two Nobel Peace Prizes. In 1922, Fridtjof Nansen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work on behalf of displaced victims of WWI and related conflicts. He donated most of the prize money to help people affected by the famine in Ukraine. In 1938, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Nansen International Office for Refugees.
In 2021, the world is facing the biggest displacement crisis in history. According UNHCR, the number of people displaced by war, violence, persecution and human rights violation rose to nearly 82.4 million in 2020.