Serbian human rights lawyer is named regional UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award winner

Nikola Kovačević, an independent human rights lawyer, who has tirelessly supported asylum-seekers and refugees, especially addressing the issues of access to territory and asylum procedure, as well as the practice of collective expulsions (pushbacks), has been named the 2021 Regional winner of the UN Refugee Agency’s Nansen Refugee Award in Europe. This is the first time a person from Serbia and Western Balkans is granted the award established almost seven decades ago.

Mr. Kovačević’s work contributed towards important improvements of the asylum system in Serbia including increase in the number of refugees being granted asylum. He has assisted many asylum-seekers to access protection in Serbia, counselling them and helping them apply for asylum, to find shelter, job and access education and medical assistance, hoping they will find opportunities and a new life in Serbia.

Mr. Kovačević met many who have been through a lot while escaping conflict and persecution, seeking protection. Many have been exposed to violence on their way to safety. His determination instigated their hope for better life.

“I am very happy that the efforts of the Serbian human rights lawyer Nikola Kovačević were recognized by the Nansen Refugee Award committee,” said Francesca Bonelli, UNHCR Representative in Serbia, and added: “For the persons forced to flee, one of the main preconditions for the continuation of the normal life is that their need for the international protection is recognized and thy can enjoy guaranteed rights. Nikola always went the extra mile in refugee protection.  The Nansen award to him recognizes not only his devotion but also the efforts done in Serbia by all actors, responsible institutions and civil society, since the past decades to provide assistance and protection to many refugees from and outside of the region, showing  solidarity and  making possible for them to find safety and rebuild their lives here in Serbia.”

Francesca Bonelli, UNHCR Representative in Serbia

Nikola Kovačević has said that he is deeply honoured and grateful to receive the 2021 UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Regional Award:  It is hard to put this feeling into words, but this award represents the most important recognition in my life and a strong motivation to continue working in the field of refugee protection. I would like to thank   UNHCR  for nominating me for such a prestigious recognition and for providing me with the opportunity to find myself in the company of inspiring individuals who dedicated their lives to helping refugees and asylum seekers and who deserve nothing else but our deepest admiration and respect”.

“This Award places a huge responsibility on my shoulders but also represents a genuine incentive to continue to fight for the legacy of the 1951 Refugee Convention and to assist those who are in need of international protection in times of increasing xenophobia, the twilight of human rights at the borders and increasing lack of solidarity. It has always been an honor to stand by refugees and I dedicate this award to all those people who were forced to flee their homes!”, Nikola underlined.

Established in 1954, UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award honors individuals, groups and organizations who go above and beyond the call of duty to protect refugees, displaced and stateless people. As of 2017, it is awarded also on a regional level, for Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

“I congratulate Nikola Kovacevic on winning this year’s Nansen Refugee Award, it is a well-deserved recognition of his extraordinary work in promoting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers and for his tireless efforts to mitigate and prevent harmful practices,” said Geir Håkon Johansen, Deputy Head of Mission of Royal Norwegian Embassy in Serbia. “For 66 years, the Nansen Refugee Award has honored extraordinary individuals and groups that have courageously and with integrity gone beyond the call of duty to help refugees or stateless people. The Nansen Refugee Award serves as a powerful platform to advocate for some of the most vulnerable people in the world, and it is a top priority for Norway to promote a comprehensive and rights-based approach for the protection of refugees and other displaced people,” said Johansen.

Nikola Kovačević, awardee of UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award for Europe in 2021

“The Government of Switzerland and the Canton of Geneva have supported the Nansen Refugee Award since its establishment in 1954. We are honored today to celebrate the granting of this prestigious award to a person from the Western Balkans for the first time. The Regional Winners are selected from more than 200 nominees for their outstanding work in supporting refugees, displaced and stateless people”, stated H.E. Urs Schmid, ambassador of Switzerland to Serbia.

“In light of the establishment of the Migration Partnership Agreement between Switzerland and Serbia back in 2009, we are glad to see that a professional from Serbia has been selected to receive the prestigious Nansen award for his extraordinary work and commitment. This also shows the responsiveness of the Serbian asylum system for working with civil society experts and confirms the necessity of continued engagement on this issue”, concluded ambassador Schmid.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.