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Late US Senator Ted Kennedy wins top UN award for aiding refugees

Late US Senator Ted Kennedy wins top UN award for aiding refugees

Edward Kennedy.
The late United States Senator Edward Kennedy has been awarded the most prestigious United Nations refugee award for his record of more than 45 years as an unparalleled champion of refugee protection and assistance.

“Senator Kennedy stood out as a forceful advocate for those who suddenly found themselves with no voice and no rights,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres said today in announcing the 2009 Nansen Refugee Award is given annually to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees.

“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.”

Mr. 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 US, UNHCR said in a statement. He was the chief sponsor of more than 70 refugee-related measures and was instrumental in codifying international refugee obligations into US law.

“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 agency said. He died in August.

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

“Senator Kennedy met with governments at the highest levels, encouraging them to welcome refugees seeking protection in their territories,” the statement added. “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,” the statement concluded.

The Award, given annually to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees, was created in 1954 in honour of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Fridtjof Nansen, the legendary Norwegian polar explorer and scientist, who was the first UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

It includes a $100,000 prize, funded by Norway and Switzerland, which the winner can donate to a cause of his or her choice. The award ceremony will take place on October 28 in Washington.

Last year the award went to the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre of South Lebanon for its efforts to rid the region of cluster munitions and other dangerous remnants of war to allow the safe return of civilians uprooted by fighting between Israel and Hizbollah in 2006.

Previous recipients include Eleanor Roosevelt, King Juan Carlos I of Spain and Queen Juliana of the Netherlands.