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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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1996 Handicap International

Handicap International, in recognition of the organization's innovative contributions toward alleviating the suffering of anti-personnel mine victims by providing low cost artificial limbs to more than 150,000 amputees around the world, many of them refugees, internally displaced people or returnees. The Nansen Committee also recognized Handicap International's advocacy work to ban the production, sale and use of anti-personnel mines.


1995 Graça Machel

Graça Machel, a strong voice for peace and reconciliation in her native Mozambique, she was recognized for her long-term humanitarian work, especially on behalf of refugee children. Machel chaired the National Organization of Children and headed the Foundation of Community Development. Machel's first husband, President Samora Machel, died in a plane crash in 1986. She married former South African President Nelson Mandela in 1998.


1993 Médecins Sans Frontières

Médecins Sans Frontières has made a name for its efficiency and dedication to the alleviation of human suffering as well as for the positions it adopts on key issues of international concern. As a medical humanitarian organization, MSF has always defended the fundamental right of victims of war and oppression to receive protection and assistance. In Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe, MSF doctors and nurses regularly and without hesitation risk their lives to save others, including the forcibly displaced.


1992 Richard von Weizsäcker

Richard von Weizsäcker, as President of the Federal Republic of Germany, sought to sensitize the German people to the causes underlying forced population displacement. He strived to make an affluent nation aware of its role and responsibility in alleviating the plight of the distressed and the dispossessed around the globe. He condemned attacks on asylum centres and demonstrated his solidarity with the victims of this violence. Weizsäcker also underlined the threat which xenophobia posed to the foundations of democratic society.


1991 Libertina Appolus Amathila / Paul Weis

Libertina Appolus Amathila, after fleeing her native Namibia in 1962, studied medicine in Warsaw, London and Stockholm. She provided medical care in refugee settlements for nearly 20 years before she was repatriated by UNHCR in 1989. She was sworn in as Minister of Local Government and Housing on March 21, 1990, the night of Namibian independence. Amathila became Deputy Prime Minister of Namibia in 2005.

Paul Weis, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, shared the award posthumously. He escaped from Dachau and found asylum in Britain. As UNHCR's first Protection Director, he was called the "founding father of protection." The Vienna-born Weis was a strong advocate for refugees and worked constantly to remind the world of its responsibility towards them.


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