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Nansen Refugee Award 2005 given to 'Angel of Burundi'

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Nansen Refugee Award 2005 given to 'Angel of Burundi'

29 April 2005

29 April 2005

GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency today announced that the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award will go to Ms. Marguerite Barankitse, known as the "Angel of Burundi," who over the past 12 years has helped more than 10,000 children of all ethnic origins, affected by the civil war in Burundi and other conflicts in the region.

The Nansen Refugee Award Committee selected the Burundian humanitarian worker and director of the NGO 'Maison Shalom' in recognition of her tireless work with separated children whose lives have been devastated by war and the scourge of AIDS.

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

A teacher by profession, "Maggy" Barankitse saved the lives of 25 children during one of the massacres in Burundi in 1993. Soon after the civil war in Burundi broke out in October of that year, she established 'Maison Shalom' in Ruyigi, one of the country's poorest provinces. The shelter provides refuge, medical care and education for displaced and unaccompanied children, including refugees and returnees. Since then, she has established three other children's homes and helped more than 10,000 children of differing ethnic groups and nationalities, many of whom have witnessed or themselves suffered atrocities.

Despite threats to her own security, Ms. Barankitse has continued her work to promote peace and reconciliation. Maison Shalom runs a variety of projects for children in need - income generating activities, health care, HIV/AIDS prevention, psycho-social support, family reunification, help for sexually abused youngsters and peace education. Her organization is currently helping refugee women and children who are returning to Burundi after years of exile in Tanzania to rebuild their lives.

Ms. Barankitse's work has been widely recognized. In 2004, she received the Four Freedoms Award from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and the Voices of Courage Award from the U.S.-based Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children.

The Nansen Refugee Award, created in 1954, is named after Fridtjof Nansen, the celebrated Norwegian polar explorer and the world's first international refugee official. Previous recipients include Eleanor Roosevelt, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, Médecins sans Frontières and the late Tanzanian President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. Last year, the award went to the Memorial Human Rights Centre, a Russian non-governmental organization which has helped tens of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people in the Russian Federation.

The award, which includes a US$100,000 grant for a refugee-related project of the recipient's choice, will be officially presented at a ceremony to mark World Refugee Day in Brussels, Belgium, on June 22.