UN refugee agency awards Congolese nun with world’s top refugee honour

Sister Angélique Namaika is a familiar sight on her bicycle, which she uses to visit the girls she helps in Dungu and nearby villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Photo: UNHCR/B. Sokol

17 September 2013 – A Congolese nun known as ‘mother’ by women and girls displaced and abused by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is being honoured with a top prize from the United Nations refugee agency, it was announced today.

Sister Angélique Namaika will receive the Nansen Refugee Prize for extraordinary humanitarian work on behalf of refugees, internally displaced or stateless people, as well as $100,000 to support her Centre for Reintegration and Development.

Through the Centre, Sister Angélique has assisted more than 2,000 women and girls who have been traumatized and abused, and often ostracized by their families and communities in a remote north-east region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Sister Angélique, who was displaced by the violence in 2009 while living in the Orientale provincial town of Dungu, helps by teaching woman a trade, assisting them start a small business or go back to school.

“These women’s lives have been shattered by brutal violence and displacement. Sister Angélique has proven that even one person can make a huge difference in the lives of families torn apart by war,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres commended the laureate. “She is a true humanitarian heroine.”

Sister Angélique said the pain of fleeing her own home is part of what drives her to work day in and day out to reach all those in need.

“It is difficult to imagine how much the women and girls abused by the LRA have suffered. They will bear the scars of this violence for their whole lives,” Sister Angélique said.

“This award will mean more displaced people in Dungu can get the help they need to restart their lives. I will never stop doing all I can to give them hope, and the chance to live again,” she added.

Since 2008, an estimated 320,000 people fled DRC’s north-eastern province of Orientale – in some cases several times, according to a report released today.

The report, produced by UNHCR and the IDMC (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre), highlights why LRA violence has created such severe and long-lasting trauma for both the abductees and the hundreds of thousands of people still too afraid to return home.

In a statement, the UN agency calls Sister Angélique’s work “exceptional” noting that it is done in a location with scarce electricity, running water and paved roads, riding a bicycle to visit the girls.

As this year’s laureate, Sister Angélique will receive the Nansen Refugee Award and the Nansen Medal at a ceremony in Geneva on September 30. The event will feature a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by British singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter, Yuna, and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam.

Following the ceremony, Sister Angélique, a Roman Catholic nun, will travel to Rome, where she will be received at the Vatican by Pope Francis on October 2 before proceeding to Paris, Brussels and Oslo for other meetings.

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