The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced Tuesday that this year’s Nansen Refugee Award goes to Sister Angelique Namaika, who works in the remote north east region of DR Congo with survivors of displacement and abuse by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The award ceremony in Geneva on 30 September will be hosted by NRC together with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees ( UNHCR). - NRC congratulates Sister Angelique Namaika with this prestigious award. I have been fortunate to already meet with the Sister and I am very impressed with the work she is doing. Faced with brutal violence by armed groups in north-eastern Congo, she has not given up. Instead she has struggled to provide victims of rape, violence and abuse new hope, says Secretary General of NRC, Jan Egeland.
Through her Centre for Reintegration and Development (CRAD) the Sister has helped transform the lives of more than 2000 displaced women and girls who have been forced from their homes by armed groups – including LRA. The brutality of the Ugandan rebel group is well-known and the testimonials of the women and girls whom Sister Angélique has helped are heart-wrenching.
Many of the women Sister Angélique helps recount stories of abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape and other human rights abuses. The Sister’s one-on-one approach helps them recover. On top of the abuse they have suffered, these vulnerable women and girls are often ostracized by their own families and communities because of their ordeal. It takes a special kind of care and nurturing to help them heal and to pick up the pieces of their lives. She does this by giving them the possibility to learn a trade, start a small business or go back to school. Testimonies from these women show the remarkable affect she has had on helping turn around their lives with many affectionately calling her “mother”.
While biking the streets of Dungu, Sister Angelique Namaika receives a warm welcome from a group of kids. Many people in Dungu know the sister for her kindness and honor her for that. PHOTO: Perspective / Anne Ackermann for NRC
Forced to flee
The announcement of the winner coincides with the release of a report which gives insight on the realities of life for those displaced by LRA violence. Since 2008 an estimated 320,000 people have been forced to flee in the Province – in some cases several times. The report highlights why LRA violence created such severe and long lasting trauma for not only the abductees but hundreds of thousands of internally displaced who are still too afraid to return home - despite a marked reduction in attacks.
‘The LRA have a long history of extreme violence and have committed some of the most horrendous mass atrocities in the world’ says Egeland. ‘The deeply entrenched fear that this long history of violence has inspired means that today, the mere rumor of perceived ‘LRA’ activity is enough to cause whole villages to flee in fear of their lives’ .
Sister Angélique herself was displaced by the violence in 2009 whilst living in Dungu. She knows the pain of fleeing one’s home. It is part of what drives her to work day in and day out – logging many kilometers on her bicycle over rutted roads – to reach all those in need.
Angélique also takes care of parts of the teaching. Everything from ABC to awareness raising of women’s rights. Photo: Perspective / Anne Ackermann for NRC
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres commended this year’s laureate, “Sister Angélique works tirelessly to help women and girls who are extremely vulnerable due to their trauma, poverty and displacement. The challenges are massive, which makes her work all the more remarkable – she doesn’t allow anything to stand in her way.”
Working in a location where electricity, running water and paved roads are scarce, Sister Angélique’s work is exceptional. Although she lacks proper tools and her resources are almost non-existent Sister Angélique does not allow herself to be deterred. She has made it her life’s work to ease the suffering of these uprooted women and girls – to give them renewed hope for the future.
Guterres continued, “These women’s lives have been shattered by brutal violence and displacement. Sister Angélique has proven that even one person can make a huge difference in the lives of families torn apart by war. She is a true humanitarian heroine.”
Responding to the announcement, the new laureate said: “It is difficult to imagine how much the women and girls abused by the LRA have suffered. They will bear the scars of this violence for their whole lives. This award will mean more displaced people in Dungu can get the help they need to restart their lives. I will never stop doing all I can to give them hope, and the chance to live again.”
Sister Angelique will receive the Award, which consists of a medal and a monetary prize, at the ceremony in Geneva. The event will feature a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by acclaimed British singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians Amadou and Mariam.
Following the Nansen Refugee Award ceremony Sister Angelique will be received at the Vatican by Pope Francis at a private audience on October 2nd and afterwards she will proceed to Paris and Brussels, before visiting Oslo October 10th.
Nansen Refugee Award
Established in 1954, the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award is awarded annually by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to an individual, group, or organization in recognition of outstanding service to the cause of refugees, displaced or stateless people.
The award is named after the intrepid Norwegian polar explorer, statesman and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Fridtjof Nansen. As the first High Commissioner for Refugees at the League of Nations, Nansen’s achievements made significant strides in giving a voice to the forcibly displaced. UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award consists of a commemorative medal, the Nansen Medal, and a 100.000 USD monetary prize, donated by the governments of Norway and Switzerland, to begin a project in consultation with UNHCR to assist the forcibly displaced. The Swiss and Norwegian governments, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the IKEA Foundation support the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award programme.