Mr. Zannah Mustapha during his acceptance speech. Foto: UNHCR/Mark Henley

Nansen Award: a win for education

On what looked like a foggy night in Geneva, a shimmer of humanitarian hope cleared the sky: this year’s Nansen Refugee Award winner Mr. Zannah Mustapha.

The present situation for refugees around the world can at times seem hopeless. 65.6 million people are forcibly displaced from their home, a number that only is equivalent with the Second World War. Every minute nearly 20 people are forcibly displaced, and among them nearly 22.5 million are children. Unfortunately, as UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, pointed out, education is the first victim of conflict, and only 1 % of refugee children attend university. Action is needed – Mr. Mustapha is a man of action.

Giving hope to displaced children in north-east Nigeria
This year’s award recognizes Mustapha’s efforts to improve the situation of children and widows whose lives have been forever changed by the violence of Boko Haram. Boko Haram have since 2009 launched military operations in an attempt at creating an Islamic state. The group was founded on the belief that western education is evil. Because of this not only the access to education is pressured, education in its self is dangerous.

It was in this dangerous region Mustapha founded a school for displaced children in 2007. What started as a one-room school has expended to two locations, providing free education and lunch for 540 pupils. Today the waiting list is of more than 2,000, and Mustapha is now building a third school for older students whose education has been disrupted. As Mustapha told the UNHCR, at the height of the insurgency, education was at its lowest point. He felt the need to rebuild it, to “put is back on track.” Further Mustapha donated land to 800 displaced families, enabling them to farm and become self-reliant. Finally, in 2016-2017, Mustapha played a key role mediating between the Nigerian Government and Boko Haram, resulting in the release of 103 girls.

Mustapha’s commitment to children’s education is nothing short of astonishing.

A true humanitarian
“I cannot think of a better winner of this year’s Nansen Award”, said UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, on Monday. Later that evening a modest and proud award winner accepted the price. In his soft-spoken acceptance speech, Mustapha moved the audience with his humble approach, while reaffirming the importance of education: “With education you can open a new page in a child’s life.”

About the Nansen Refugee Award

The Award was established in 1954 and is named after the Norwegian explorer, scientist and diplomat, Fridtjof Nansen, who was the first High Commissioner for Refugees of UNs predecessor, the League of Nations, in the 1920s. In honoring Nansen’s rich legacy the award consist of a commemorative medal and monetary prize of 100.00 USD donated by the governments of Norway and Switzerland. The Norwegian government considers the Award an important part of safeguarding the humanitarian legacy of Fridtjof Nansen, and proudly congratulates Mr. Mustapha as this year’s winner. His humanitarian stamina and commitment to children’s education is well founded in the awards spirit.


Read more about the Nansen Refugee Award and this year’s winner here: