Archive of Past Nansen Winners
Past Winners of the Nansen Award
More than 60 individuals, groups or organizations have won the Nansen Refugee Award since it was inaugurated in 1954. The first winner was Eleanor Roosevelt, the first chairperson of the UN Human Rights Commission and wife of legendary US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
She has been followed by an illustrious group of individuals, including French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Tanzania's President Julius Nyerere, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, Graça Machel and late Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
A number of humanitarian organizations, and partners of UNHCR, have won the award, which has included a cash prize since 1979. Among them are 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 - the only country to have received the award as a nation.
Japanese optometrist Akio Kanai received the Nansen Medal for giving the gift of clear vision to tens of thousands of refugees around the world. He provided free eyesight tests and handed out more than 100,000 pairs of spectacles to forcibly displaced people. Kanai, head of Fuji Optical, started his humanitarian work in 1983 in Thailand with Indo-Chinese refugees, many of whom had lost their spectacles while fleeing their homes.
Marguerite Barankitse, dubbed the "Angel of Burundi," for her tireless efforts on behalf of children affected by war, poverty and disease. Through her work with her organization, Maison Shalom, Barankitse sent a message of hope for the future. The Burundian Tutsi and her team ran four "children's villages" in Burundi as well as a centre for orphans and other vulnerable children in Bujumbura. She said her work was inspired by one goal: peace.
Russia's Memorial Human Rights Centre received the Nansen for helping tens of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people across the Russian Federation. The Nansen Committee was particularly impressed with the wide range of services carried out by Memorial 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 emerged during the former Soviet Union's "perestroika," or restructuring period of the 1980s.
Annalena Tonelli received the Nansen Award for her commitment to refugees in the Horn of Africa. The 60-year-old Italian lawyer initiated programmes to tackle tuberculosis in Kenya and Somalia, worked in HIV/AIDS prevention and control, campaigned for the eradication of female genital mutilation in Africa and ran a school for hearing-impaired children. She was murdered in October 2003 at a TB hospital she set up in Somaliland.
Captain Arne Rinnan and the crew and owners of the Norwegian container ship, MV Tampa, for demonstrating courage and a unique degree of commitment to refugee protection. Capt. Rinnan was in charge of the Tampa when it rescued 438 boat people in the Indian Ocean on August 26, 2001. Despite the risk of substantial delays and a large financial loss to the company, the huge container ship - unsuitable to carry a large number of passengers - altered its course to rescue the asylum-seekers.