Defender of children’s rights

Mayerlín Vergara Pérez of Colombia awarded Nansen Refugee Award

Image: Wikimedia Commons
The official logo of the Nansen Refugee Award.


October is the month when the world gets to know the winner of the Nansen Refugee Award, granted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This year, the highly prestigious award was given to Mayerlín Vergara Pérez of Colombia for her longstanding work against sexual and gender-based violence and her persistent efforts to protect children and young people, many of them refugees.

The crisis in Venezuela in recent years has led to thousands of minors crossing the border into Colombia, and many have been sexually abused. Mayerlín Vergara Pérez has worked with communities in Uribia, Maicao, and Riohacha near the Venezuelan border to help children and young people in the region.

“People like Maye represent the best of us. Her bravery and selfless pursuit to rescue and protect some of the world’s most vulnerable children is nothing short of heroic,” declared Filippo Grandi, the current UNHCR.

“She embodies the essence of this award. Her unwavering dedication has saved the lives of hundreds of refugee children and restored their hopes for a better future,” he added.

Norwegian State Secretary Marianne Hagen said, “I would like to thank Mayerlín Vergara Pérez for her unique efforts for children and young people in the fight against sexual violence. Her work shows the difficult circumstances for some of the most vulnerable people who have been driven to flee.”

For Norway, prevention of and protection against sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian crises is a priority, and it is urgent to put it on the international agenda. 

“This year’s award focuses on an important and difficult topic. It is crucial to have people like Maye in the front line to ensure protection and psychosocial benefits for survivors,” Hagen said.

The Nansen Refugee Award honors outstanding service to people who have been forcibly displaced. Over the years, 82 individuals, groups, or organizations have received the award for their unwavering dedication to refugees and outstanding work on behalf of forcibly displaced or stateless people.

Norway established the Nansen Prize in 1954 with Switzerland. It is named after the first High Commissioner for Refugees for the League of Nations, Fridtjof Nansen. The award is an important part of Nansen’s humanitarian legacy. It includes a commemorative medal and $150,000. In close consultation with the UNHCR, the laureate uses the monetary prize to fund a project that complements work already underway. 

The Nansen Refugee Award Program is funded in partnership with the Swiss government, the Norwegian government, the State Council of the Republic and Canton of Geneva, the Administrative Council of the City of Geneva, and the IKEA Foundation.

The 2020 Nansen Refugee Award Ceremony took place virtually on Oct. 5 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Marit Fosse

Marit Fosse trained as an economist from Norwegian school of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen (Norges Handelshøyskole NHH) and then earned a doctorate in social sciences. She is the author of several books. Nansen: Explorer and Humanitarian, co-authored with John Fox, was translated into Russian/Armenian/French. In addition, Fosse is the editor of International Diplomat/Diva International in Geneva, a magazine set up 20 years ago for diplomats and persons working in the international organizations in Geneva but also elsewhere. In her free time, Fosse is an accomplished painter.