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Russian organization wins UN refugee award

Russian organization wins UN refugee award

The United Nations refugee agency today awarded its top prize to a Russian organization advocating on behalf of refugees and people uprooted from their homes seeking safe haven in the Russian Federation.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, announced that the Memorial Human Rights Centre is this year’s recipient of the Nansen Refugee Award, given annually to individuals or organizations that have distinguished themselves in work on behalf of refugees.

“Last year, the Centre provided legal counselling to more than 21,300 people, including forced migrants, internally displaced people and asylum seekers,” Mr. Lubbers said, noting that many of them came from outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), including Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The Centre, one of the first non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the then-Soviet Union, “has carried out its work in often very difficult situations – including in the North Caucasus – and has earned the respect of all of us in the international humanitarian community," he said.

The Centre emerged during the former Soviet Union’s “perestroika” period, becoming independent in 1993 and responsible for monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in the former USSR. Its network of 150 staff members now work in more than 45 regions in the Russian Federation.

The Centre will receive the award on 20 June – World Refugee Day – in Barcelona, Spain, as part of the city’s Universal Forum of Cultures.

The $100,000 Award, instituted in1954, is named after Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, the world’s first international refugee official, who was appointed in 1921 at the League of Nations.

It has been awarded to US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, Médecins Sans Frontières, the late Tanzanian President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the people of Canada, former Mozambican First Lady Graça Machel and Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

Last year’s award went to Dr. Annalena Tonelli, who was shot to death in October outside the hospital she has founded in Borama, northwest Somalia.