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Nansen Refugee Award for 2004

Briefing notes

Nansen Refugee Award for 2004

30 April 2004

High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers and all of us at UNHCR are proud to announce today that Russia's Memorial Human Rights Centre, an NGO that has helped tens of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people across the Russian Federation, has been named this year's Nansen Refugee Award winner.

The Nansen Refugee Award is given annually to individuals or organisations that have distinguished themselves in work on behalf of refugees.

In a UNHCR statement available in the back of the room, Mr. Lubbers notes that among the Russian Federation's relatively young NGO community, the Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Centre stands out as a highly respected and effective advocate for the displaced and the dispossessed. The Nansen Award Committee was particularly impressed with the wide range of services carried out by the Centre on behalf of forced migrants and internally displaced people as well as refugees from as far afield as Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Memorial Human Rights Centre emerged during the former Soviet Union's "perestroika" period and was formally established in 1987 as a department of the Memorial Society, one of the country's first NGOs. The Centre became independent in 1993, with a mandate to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Russia and across the former USSR. The scope of its activities rapidly evolved amid an influx of millions of forced migrants from the Commonwealth of Independent States and Baltic countries, as well as displacement from the Chechnya conflict. Gradually, it has also gained expertise in providing help to thousands of refugees from the so-called "far abroad."

Today, Memorial Human Rights Centre's network of some 150 dedicated staff work in more than 45 regions across the Russian Federation. Last year, it provided legal counselling to more than 21,300 people.

The Nansen Refugee Award, named after Fridtjof Nansen - Norwegian polar explorer and the world's first international refugee official - was created in 1954. Previous recipients include Eleanor Roosevelt; King Juan Carlos I of Spain; Queen Juliana of the Netherlands; Médecins Sans Frontières; the late Tanzanian President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere; the people of Canada; Graça Machel and Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

The award includes $100,000 for a refugee project of the recipient's choice. It will be formally presented to the Memorial Human Rights Centre on June 20 - World Refugee Day - in Barcelona as part of the Universal Forum of Cultures, Barcelona 2004. The award ceremony will be presided over by Her Royal Highness the Infanta Cristina of Spain. Spanish actor Imanol Arias will be master of ceremonies for the evening event in Barcelona's Palau de la Música Catalana. UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie will attend as the High Commissioner's guest of honour.

The winner of the 2003 Nansen award, Italian humanitarian Dr. Annalena Tonelli, was shot and killed outside her hospital in Borama, North-West Somalia, in October, 2003. Since then, Dr. Tonelli's work - begun more than three decades ago - has gone on, supported by her many friends, staff and supporters. There is more information on that as well in the press release.