CORRECTED: Yemeni NGO receives annual UN refugee award
The UN refugee agency on Tuesday awarded its annual Nansen prize to the Yemeni Society for Humanitarian Solidarity and its founder for its work in assisting refugees who arrive in the country by boat.
"We are very honored that we can give the Nansen award for 2011 to SHS and its founder, an organisation that is a key partner in Yemen," the head of the UN's refugee agency Antonio Guterres told reporters.
The NGO, founded by Nasser Salim Ali Al-Hamairy, monitors 600 kilometers (400 miles) of Yemen's coast and provides assistance to tens of thousands of refugees who cross the Red Sea to escape violence and hunger in the Horn of Africa, Guterres said.
He said that so far some 60,000 people had made the sea crossing in 2011, and that there were 120 confirmed drownings, although the figure is likely to be higher.
"To go to Yemen, they need to go by boat" and the refugees must rely on traffickers and smugglers, Guterres said.
"It is a dangerous journey, they travel in unseaworthy boats, and many sink," he said.
Guterres gave the example of a group of smugglers who, to escape a patrole, "would sink the boat and escape in smaller boat, and sink the boat with the refugees with their hands tied."
Thousands of these refugees owe their lives to SHS, Guterres said.
"It is difficult to find a more committed, more competent and brave NGO," he said.
"This organisation has demonstrated an enormous courage... it is an example of how civil society can play a dramatic role," he concluded.
The award was set up in 1954 in honour of the first UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Fridtjof Nansen of Norway, to mark outstanding work on behalf of refugees. The prize is worth $100,000 (73,500 euros).
© 2011 AFP