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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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1978 Sir Seretse Khama

Sir Seretse Khama, the first President of Botswana, was awarded the Nansen Medal in recognition of his country's exceptional services to refugees. The people and government of Botswana gave shelter to thousands of victims of racial discrimination and other forms of persecution.


1977 The Malaysian Red Crescent

The Malaysian Red Crescent won the 1977 Nansen Award for its work in helping refugees from Indo-China, especially boat people who reached the Malaysian waters. The organization could not have done its work without the help of 40,000 volunteers around the country. In conjunction with the Muslim welfare organization, Pertubuhan Kebajikan Islam Malaysia, the Red Crescent played a pioneering role in the local settlement of displaced Cambodians.


1976 Olav Hodne / Marie-Louise Bertschinger

Olav Hodne, a Norwegian missionary with the Lutheran World Service, set up the Cooch-Behar Refugee Service to help people forcibly displaced during the 1971 war between Pakistan and India that led to the creation of Bangladesh. During his many years in the subcontinent, helped thousands of uprooted people become self-sufficient. He also made vital contributions towards solving the hunger crisis in parts of Asia.

Marie-Louise Bertschinger, who served with the International Committee of the Red Cross and UNHCR, is another posthumous winner of the Nansen Award. She served the refugee cause with great skill, dedication and distinction. She was tragically died after being attacked by a deranged refugee while working, during her retirement, as a volunteer in Ethiopia.


1975 James Norris

James Norris, who won the award posthumously, was European Director of Catholic Relief Services for more than two decades. In this role, he actively promoted aid programmes for hundreds of thousands of uprooted people around the world. As one close associate put it, Norris was a man of action who "expressed his love of God through the love and service of man."


1974 Bishop Helmut Frenz

Bishop Helmut Frenz of the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Chile, who was chairman of the Chilean National Committee for Aid to Refugees. Under his courageous and inspiring leadership, the committee established safe havens where thousands of civilians forced to flee persecution could receive shelter, protection and assistance until leaving for resettlement. He was expelled from the country in 1975, but continued working for refugees as head of Amnesty International in his native Germany.


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