UNHCR Nansen Awards Ceremony – Geneva, Switzerland


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samira nansen.jpg

The 2018 Nansen Award Ceremony hosted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

This last week marked a milestone for Women of the World Founder and Executive Director, Samira Harnish, the awarding by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) of the 2018 Americas Region Nansen Award Finalist. The award ceremony was held on October 1st in Geneva, Switzerland. Geneva serves as the European headquarters for the United Nations and as the global headquarters for the UNHCR.

The UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award is awarded annually by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to an individual, group, or organization in recognition of outstanding service to the cause of refugees, displaced, or stateless people. There are finalists from each of the regions (Americas, Europe, Africa, Middle East, and Asia) and one overall winner. This year Samira Harnish was recognized in the Americas region for leading Women of the World in supporting the women refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants that have fled their homes and resettled in Utah.

Samira Harnish has been recognized by numerous groups and by Salt Lake City for her work with refugees but this is her first international recognition. Below is a brief description of Women of the World’s co-Founders’ (Samira and Justin Harnish) travels to Geneva to receive the award and some of the insights that gained from meeting with the professionals at the UNHCR.

One of the first things that you notice about Geneva is how cosmopolitan it is. Just based on its geography, residents speak three languages fluently and most speak four or more. Everyone we met at the UNHCR spoke at least four languages — English and French, the two main languages of the UN, and some combination of Italian, Spanish, or German.The next thing that you recognize is that Geneva is committed to diplomacy and global approaches to collaboration. At the airport, there is a special lane for diplomats that always has someone moving through it.


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Samira & Nansen Award.jpg

But as much progress as has been made, the art in front of the Palace of Nations building at UN Headquarters in Geneva continues to challenge us to always struggle for peace. Called Broken Chair, the 39-foot tall sculpture is a three-legged chair that symbolizes the damage done by landmines and cluster munitions. It is a monumental sculpture in wood by the Swiss artist Daniel Berset, constructed by the carpenter Louis Genève. This stands in front of the flags of the nations of the world and is a stark reminder of the work ahead of humanity.

On Monday during the day, we visited the UN and the Palace of Nations building. The tour starts in the modern UN buildings and ends in the Palace of Nations building initially constructed for the League of Nations after WWI. The art on the walls and ceiling of the Council Chamber that houses meetings of the Disarmament Committee is still relevant today. The industrial gold and sepia murals, painted by the Catalan artist José Maria Sert, depict the progress of humankind through health, technology, freedom and peace while the ceiling raises the possibility of all the peoples of the regions of the world.

There was newer art in the halls that our UNHCR handlers had commissioned for the #WithRefugees campaign. #RefugiArte is a powerful exhibition by Latin America artists in the Palais des Nations in Geneva aimed at raising awareness on the situation of forcibly displaced individuals. This art is poignant, tugging at raw emotion in every new depiction of the refugee struggle.

We got to attend a session of the Executive Committee where delegates from all countries discussed their concerns on human rights and refugee issues. We watched both the Liberian and Chad delegations before we had to leave to prepare for the Nansen awards ceremony.


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