Jan Egeland, Yoo Soon-taek and Ban Ki-moon. 
Photo: Norway UN Mission/Emma K Lydersen.Jan Egeland, Yoo Soon-taek and Ban Ki-moon. Photo: Norway UN Mission/Emma K Lydersen

Nansen honoured on World Refugee Day in New York

6/22/2011 // The 150th anniversary of the birth of the great Norwegian polar explorer, scientist and humanitarian, Fridtjof Nansen, was honored in New York with the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as guest of honour and the former UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland as keynote speaker.

Ban Ki-moon held the opening speech where he thanked Norway for its leading role in the humanitarian field. He also said that his desire to help refugees and internally displaced people was in part due to his own experience; as a six-year old during the Korean War he was forced to flee with his family when his home was set on fire and destroyed.

The setting was worthy of the great explorer and humanitarian – the Harvard Hall on Manhattan. The hall is not unlike the ones that Nansen himself visited during his lecture tour about Russian refugees after World War One. Nansen was the world’s first High Commissioner for Refugees, having been appointed by the League of Nations in 1920.

Nearly 90 years later, various UN-leaders, philanthropists, academics, activists and journalists filed in to listen as the UN’s former UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Jan Egeland, presented the Nansen Lecture describing the plight of the world’s 43.7 million refugees and displaced people.

“We see today the highest number of refugees and forcibly displaced fellow in this millennium. There is more development and more democracy than ever before, but we fail to protect the most vulnerable people from unspeakable violence and threats,” Jan Egeland said.

“Even greater than the number of refugees and displaced due to wars and political conflicts are the growing numbers that flee from a relentless increase in natural disasters. It is perhaps the greatest injustice of our generation that those who did nothing to cause climate change are first and hardest hit, and those of us in the industrialized North that did the most to trigger global warming are hit last and least.”

Following the lecture Tanzania’s UN Ambassador Ombeni Sefue noted that the injustice of globalisation is not sustainable, while Nour al-Khal from Iraq described the brutality of refugee life.

The event was organised by the Permanent Mission of Norway to the UN, the Norwegian Consulate-General, the Women’s Refugee Commission and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.


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