Late Senator Honored for Lifetime of Work with RefugeesSeptember 15, 2009
The United Nations refugee agency announced Tuesday that its Nansen Refugee Award will go to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), for his achievements as an unparalleled champion of refugee protection and assistance for more than 45 years.
Sen. Kennedy’s work in establishing U.S. refugee admissions, resettlement, and asylum programs directly helped millions of persecuted individuals to find protection and start new lives in the United States. He was the chief sponsor of more than 70 refugee related measures and was instrumental in codifying international refugee obligations into U.S. law.
In announcing the Nansen award, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said: “Senator Kennedy stood out as a forceful advocate for those who suddenly found themselves with no voice and no rights. Year after year, conflict after conflict, he put the plight of refugees on the agenda and drove through policies that saved and shaped countless lives.”
From his election in 1962, Sen. Kennedy adopted a comprehensive approach in his fight for refugee protection. He effectively utilized his influence in the United States Congress to advance refugee and asylum-related legislation and to raise awareness of refugee crises.
Sen. Kennedy met with foreign governments at the highest levels, encouraging them to welcome refugees seeking protection in their territories. His work helped to raise public awareness of the challenges refugees face around the world. He also regularly met with refugees themselves, visiting refugee settings around the globe as well as in local U.S.
communities. Throughout, he demonstrated a level of compassion and empathy for individual refugees and their communities unrivalled in the U.S. Congress.
Sen. Kennedy’s interest in refugee protection did not stop at the U.S. border - he was the voice and the hope of persecuted and uprooted individuals worldwide. He brought attention to refugee crises in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. Most recently, he played a critical role in drawing attention to the needs of Iraqi refugees.
UNHCR is grateful it was able to inform Senator Kennedy of the Nansen Committee’s decision in June, and deeply saddened by his passing.
The Nansen Refugee Award was created in 1954 in honor of Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian explorer, scientist and the first UN High Commissioner for Refugees. It is given annually to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. The Nansen award consists of a commemorative medal and a US $100,000 monetary prize donated by the governments of Switzerland and Norway. The winner can donate it to a cause of his or her choice.
The Nansen Award Ceremony will take place on 28 October 2009 in Washington, D.C.
Instituted in 1954, the Nansen Refugee Award is given annually to an individual or an organization in recognition of extraordinary and dedicated service to refugees and is the most prestigious honor conferred by UNHCR. More than 60 individuals, groups or organizations have won the Nansen Refugee Award since Eleanor Roosevelt became the first winner in 1954.
Anybody can nominate someone or some organization for the Nansen Award, but a special committee selects the annual winner. Recipients have been chosen from many different areas. Whatever their creed, color, age or profession, every winner put in extraordinary effort and time to help the forcibly displaced around the world.
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