Maltese lawyer presented with top UN award for aiding Mediterranean boat people
A Maltese lawyer who has fought for the rights of boat people fleeing across the Mediterranean Sea, sometimes at great danger to herself, was presented with the most prestigious United Nations refugee award last night, and immediately pledged to use the money to further her efforts.
“We are all privileged to be able to give the Nansen Refugee Award to an angel,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in handing over the prize, consisting of a medal and $100,000, to Katrine Camilleri at a ceremony in Geneva attended by scores of guests.
Ms. Camilleri, 37, paid tribute to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Malta, whose legal department she heads in representing the interests of asylum seekers, including victims of trauma, torture, and sexual and gender based violence, who face detention after arriving in Malta.
“It is an honour that I share with every member of Jesuit Refugee Service throughout the world,” she said. “When one of us is honoured all of us are honoured because we share the same mission – to accompany, serve and defend the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced people.”
She said she planned to use the money to consolidate JRS projects and develop new services, including information DVDs in different languages to reach asylum seekers, especially women, with a low level of literacy, a legal fund to help asylum seekers access courts, and a fund to train and use cultural mediators.
Over the last year, JRS and Ms. Camilleri have faced a series of attacks. Nine vehicles belonging to the Jesuits were burned in two separate incidents and in April, arsonists set fire to Ms. Camilleri’s car and her front door, terrifying her family trapped inside. The attacks shocked Maltese society and drew wide condemnation, including from the Government.
The incident, she said, shattered her own two children’s sense of invulnerability, but has not altered her desire to help asylum seekers risking their lives in flimsy boats to reach safety.
“By making the award to Dr. Camilleri for her civic courage and for the inspiring example set by her actions, the Nansen Refugee Award Committee would like to honour all individuals who are working to improve the well-being of refugees,” the citation said.
The prize is funded by the governments of Norway and Switzerland.