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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.

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2003 Annalena Tonelli

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.


2002 Captain Arne Rinnan and the crew and owners of the Norwegian container ship, MV Tampa

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.


2001 Luciano Pavarotti

Luciano Pavarotti, in recognition of his efforts to give visibility to the refugee cause and to help raise funds for refugees projects. The 2001 "Pavarotti and Friends" concert and related activities raised awareness about Afghan refugees and the conditions they were living in. Profits from the event went towards funding various projects benefitting Afghan refugee children in Pakistan. Pavarotti continued to support UNHCR until his death in 2007.


2000 Jelena Silajdzic / Miguel Angel Estrella / United Nations Volunteers / Lao Mong Hay / His Holiness Abune Paulos

Film maker Jelena Silajdzic fled with her husband and two children to the Czech Republic from her native Sarajevo in 1992 when the Bosnian city was under siege. In Prague, she organized cultural events to spread awareness about refugees, promote tolerance towards minorities and deepen relations between Czech society and the countries of the former Yugoslavia. In 1999, she established Slovo 21, which among other projects supports the integration of foreign nationals living in the Czech Republic.


1998 Mustafa Dzhemilev

Mustafa Dzhemilev, received the Nansen Medal in recognition of his outstanding efforts to help Crimean Tartars reintegrate in their native Ukraine. As President of the Association of Crimean Tartars and a member of the Ukrainian parliament, Dzhemilev worked tirelessly with UNHCR to help tens of thousands of Tartars recover their Ukrainian citizenship and their basic rights.


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