Magazine article UN Chronicle

1954: UN High Commissioner for Refugees: 'Keeping Pace with History in the Making'

Magazine article UN Chronicle

1954: UN High Commissioner for Refugees: 'Keeping Pace with History in the Making'

Article excerpt

The second Nobel Peace Prize for the United Nations went not to an individual but to one of its specialized agencies: the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Seen as a bridge between the community of States, as reflected by the institution of the United Nations, and the world community of individual men and women, many of whom are stateless, UNHCR focuses global attention on those who find themselves living outside known boundaries and subject to prejudice, persecution and poverty.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees was established after the First World War by the League of Nations as a result of the initiative of Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian explorer, scientist and statesman, who was awarded the 1922 Nobel Peace Prize for his "leadership, vigour and spirit" in the service of refugees. After his demise, the "Nansen Office" continued his work and was similarly honoured in 1938 with the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Second World War followed on the heels of the Nansen award, causing an unprecedented number of uprooted men, women and children adrift throughout Europe. The world community mobilized itself, creating the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the International Refugee Organization (IRO). UNRRA assisted with the voluntary repatriation of over 7 million people and IRO helped in the resettlement of more than 1.7 million European refugees who did not want to return home. UNHCR came into existence in December 1950, superseding the mandates of UNRRA and IRO.

Initially created for a three-year period to address immediate problems, UNHCR had just received a four-year mandate extension when it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954. The Nobel Committee emphasized that the award was not merely a symbol of gratitude for past achievements but was also a signal to the world community that the work must continue. The importance of anticipating future crises and preparedness to meet new refugee challenges on the basis of the principles of humanitarianism and international justice was stressed. The Nobel Committee, in its presentation speech, said: "It is work for peace, if to heal the wounds of war is to work for peace, if to promote brotherhood among men is to work for peace. For this work shows us that the unfortunate foreigner is one of us; it teaches us to understand that sympathy with other human beings, even if they are separated from us by national frontiers, is the foundation upon which a lasting peace must be built"

Defined by some as the conscience of the world, UNHCR is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve their problems worldwide, whether it is to provide sanctuary in another country or the right of sale return to their own State, to integrate locally or resettle in a third country. …

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