UNHCR awards Nansen Refugee prize to the late Senator Edward Kennedy

News Stories, 15 September 2009

© STR New / Reuters
The late Senator Edward Kennedy.

GENEVA, September 15 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency announced Tuesday that its annual Nansen Refugee Award will go to the late Senator Edward Kennedy for his achievements as an unparalleled champion of refugee protection and assistance for more than 45 years.

Senator Kennedy's work in establishing US refugee admissions, resettlement and asylum programmes directly helped millions of persecuted individuals to find protection and start new lives in the United States. He was the chief sponsor of more than 70 refugee related measures and was instrumental in codifying international refugee obligations into US law.

In announcing the 2009 Nansen award, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said: "Senator Kennedy stood out as a forceful advocate for those who suddenly found themselves with no voice and no rights. Year after year, conflict after conflict, he put the plight of refugees on the agenda and drove through policies that saved and shaped countless lives."

From his election to the US Senate in 1962, Kennedy adopted a comprehensive approach in his fight for refugee protection. He effectively utilized his influence in Congress to advance refugee and asylum-related legislation and to raise awareness of refugee crises.

Senator Kennedy met with governments at the highest levels, encouraging them to welcome refugees seeking protection in their territories. His work helped to raise public awareness of the challenges refugees face around the world. He also regularly met with refugees themselves, visiting refugee settings around the globe as well as in local US communities. Throughout, he demonstrated a level of compassion and empathy for individual refugees and their communities unrivalled in the US Congress.

Senator Kennedy's interest in refugee protection did not stop at the US border he was the voice and the hope of persecuted and uprooted individuals worldwide. He brought attention to refugee crises in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Most recently, he played a critical role in drawing attention to the needs of Iraqi refugees.

UNHCR is grateful it was able to inform Senator Kennedy of the Nansen Committee's decision in June, and deeply saddened by his passing.

The Nansen Refugee Award is given annually to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. It includes a US$100,000 prize, funded by Norway and Switzerland, that the winner can donate to a cause of his or her choice. It was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, the legendary Norwegian polar explorer and scientist, and the first UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In this role, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922.

The Nansen Award Ceremony will take place on October 28 in the US capital, Washington D.C.