UNHCR ceremony honours Yemeni aid group and Angelina Jolie

News Stories, 3 October 2011

© UNHCR/J.Tanner
SHS founder Nasser Salim Ali Al-Hamairy makes an acceptance speech as Angelina Jolie and UNHCR chief António Guterres look on.

GENEVA, October 3 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency paid lavish tribute on Monday night to award-winning American actress Angelina Jolie and Yemeni humanitarian aid group Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS) for their outstanding work for refugees over many years.

Before an audience of 800 government officials, diplomats, donors and aid workers, Jolie was recognized for completing 10 years as UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, while the founder and 290 staff of SHS received the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award for their live-saving work helping tens of thousands of desperate boat people arriving on the coast of Yemen from the Horn of Africa.

"This award motivates us to increase our effort to helping those who are in need," said SHS founder Nasser Salim Ali Al-Hamairy, while Jolie told the audience, "It is an honour to work on behalf of refugees and I look forward to the next 10 years."

Lauding Jolie, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said, "She is the very best of the goodwill ambassadors that exist in the humanitarian world."

It is an honour to work on behalf of refugees and I look forward to the next 10 years.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie

In a slick ceremony presided over by former British politician and broadcast journalist Sir Martin Bell, Norwegian musician Sivert Hoyem warmed up the audience with two songs before a tribute to Angelina Jolie and her work for UNHCR was screened in Geneva's distinctive 19th Century Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, a former water pumping station on the River Rhone.

"I'm so grateful to the many refugee families that I have had the honour and privilege to spend the last years with. From them I've learned so much. I've learned to become a better person, a better mother," Jolie said. "They've inspired me by showing me every day the unbreakable strength of the human spirit."

The actress, who was presented with a gold pin, has visited almost 30 countries worldwide as UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador over the past decade, including Afghanistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Malta and Italy this year alone.

In the highlight of the evening, Jolie and Guterres presented the Nansen Refugee Medal to SHS founder Al-Hamairy, whose non-governmental humanitarian organization has since 1995 been helping people fleeing by smugglers' boats across the Gulf of Aden. SHS also helps needy local communities.

SHS has been particularly busy this year. So far in 2011, more than 60,000 people have made sea crossings to Yemen as many as the combined number of arrivals in the last three years. It is estimated that at least 120 people drowned trying to make the journey this year.

SHS staff work around the clock to monitor about a third of Yemen's 2,000 kilometre-long coastline, pick up survivors, provide emergency care and, all too often, bury those who die en route.

"I do think they deserve the recognition of the international community," said Guterres, while Jolie also paid tribute to the Yemeni aid workers. "The staff of SHS often risk their own lives to save others," she said, describing their life-saving assistance as "extraordinary."

Colombian humanitarian and musician Juanes also took part in the tribute, performing two of the songs that have made him a superstar in South America. The Grammy winner has helped spread awareness about the suffering of hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced people in his country, including indigenous people. Somali sister band Sweet Rush also performed.

The Nansen Refugee Award was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat and politician who in the 1920s became the first international High Commissioner for Refugees.

It is given annually to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees and consists of a commemorative medal and a US$100,000 monetary prize donated by the governments of Switzerland and Norway. The winner can donate spend the funds on a project approved by the Nansen committee.

Past winners include Eleanor Roosevelt, Tanzania's late President Julius Nyerere, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, Graça Machel, late Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti and last year's winner, photographer Alixandra Fazzina. A number of humanitarian organizations, and partners of UNHCR, have also won the award, including the League of Red Cross Societies. Médecins Sans Frontières, Handicap International and the UN Volunteers. In 1986, the Nansen went to the people of Canada.

Monday's event was supported by the Swiss and Norwegian governments, the Canton of Geneva, the City of Geneva, the IKEA Foundation and the Norwegian Refugee Council, which also helped to organize the presentation ceremony.

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The 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

At this year's Nansen Refugee Award presentation ceremony in Geneva, the UN refugee agency paid tribute to award-winning American actress Angelina Jolie and Yemeni humanitarian aid group, the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity, for their outstanding work for refugees over many years.

Jolie was recognized for completing 10 years as UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. The American actress joined UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres to present the Nansen Award to Nasser Salim Ali Al-Hamairy for his NGO's live-saving work in helping tens of thousands of desperate boat people arriving on the coast of Yemen from the Horn of Africa.

The Nansen Refugee Award was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, the legendary Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat and politician who in the 1920s became the first international High Commissioner for Refugees. It is given annually to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees and consists of a commemorative medal and a US$100,000 prize donated by the governments of Switzerland and Norway.

The 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

Yemeni humanitarian aid group wins 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

The founder and staff of the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS), a humanitarian organization in Yemen, has won the 2011 Nansen Refugee Award for their work in aiding and rescuing refugees and migrants who make the dangerous sea journey across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa. View a slideshow of the group's life-saving work, patrolling the beaches of southern Yemen for new arrivals and providing food, shelter and medical care to those who survive the dangerous journey.

Yemeni humanitarian aid group wins 2011 Nansen Refugee Award

UNHCR pays tribute to Goodwill Ambassador Angelina JoliePlay video

UNHCR pays tribute to Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie

In recognition for her extraordinary commitment and dedication to refugees for over a decade UNHCR pays tribute to Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie.
The Nansen Refugee Award

The Nansen Refugee Award

Given to individuals or organizations for outstanding service in the cause of refugees.

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2008 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency has named the British coordinator of a UN-run mine clearance programme in southern Lebanon and his civilian staff, including almost 1,000 Lebanese mine clearers, as the winners of the 2008 Nansen Refugee Award.

Christopher Clark, a former officer with the British armed forces, became manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre-South Lebanon (UNMACC-SL) n 2003. His teams have detected and destroyed tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and tens of thousands of mines. This includes almost 145,000 submunitions (bomblets from cluster-bombs) found in southern Lebanon since the five-week war of mid-2006.

Their work helped enable the return home of almost 1 million Lebanese uprooted by the conflict. But there has been a cost – 13 mine clearers have been killed, while a further 38 have suffered cluster-bomb injuries since 2006. Southern Lebanon is once more thriving with life and industry, while the process of reconstruction continues apace thanks, in large part, to the work of the 2008 Nansen Award winners.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency's Nansen Awards Committee has named Dr. Katrine Camilleri, a 37-year-old lawyer with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Malta, as the winner of the 2007 Nansen Refugee Award. The Committee was impressed by the political and civic courage she has shown in dealing with the refugee situation in Malta.

Dr. Camilleri first became aware of the plight of refugees as a 16-year-old girl when a priest visited her school to talk about his work. After graduating from the University of Malta in 1994, she began working in a small law firm where she came into contact with refugees. As Dr. Camilleri's interest grew in this humanitarian field, she started to work with the JRS office in Malta in 1997.

Over the last year, JRS and Dr. Camilleri have faced a series of attacks. Nine vehicles belonging to the Jesuits were burned in two separate attacks. And this April, arsonists set fire to both Dr. Camilleri's car and her front door, terrifying her family. The perpetrators were never caught but the attacks shocked Maltese society and drew condemnation from the Government of Malta. Dr. Camilleri continues to lead the JRS Malta legal team as Assistant Director.

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

Burundian humanitarian worker Maggy Barankitse received the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award for her tireless work on behalf of children affected by war, poverty and disease. The Nansen medal was presented at a grand ceremony in Brussels by H.R.H. Princess Mathilde of Belgium and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Wendy Chamberlin.

Accepting the award, Barankitse said her work was inspired by one single goal: peace. "Accept your fellow man, sit down together, make this world a world of brothers and sisters," she said. "Nothing resists love, that's the message that I want to spread."

Sponsored by UNHCR corporate partner Microsoft, the ceremony and reception at Concert Noble was also attended by Belgium's Minister for Development Co-operation Armand De Decker, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel, renowned Burundian singer Khadja Nin, Congolese refugee and comedian Pie Tshibanda, and French singer and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Julien Clerc. Among others.

The Nansen Refugee Award 2005

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