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"ANGEL OF BURUNDI" - Marguerite Barankitse

New York, 23 June 2005

A woman known as the "Angel of Burundi" for her dedication to saving and educating children in her war-torn country was last night awarded the 2005 Nansen Refugee Award, presented by a United Nations refugee official and a member of the Belgian royal family at a celebrity-packed ceremony in the elegant Concert Noble in Brussels.

Marguerite Barankitse, a Burundian Tutsi who sheltered her seven adopted Hutu and Tutsi children throughout the massacres of the civil war and went on to assist 10,000 more by founding three centres for traumatized children, was presented with the prize by Princess Mathilde of Belgium and Wendy Chamberlin, the Deputy High Commissioner of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Accepting the award, Barankitse said her work was inspired by one single goal: peace. "Accept your fellow man, sit down together, make this world a world of brothers and sisters," she said.  Among the many people she helped were Burundian refugees returning to their country after a long exile in Tanzania.

The Deputy High Commissioner applauded Barankitse's contribution to building a more peaceful world by teaching children of all ethnic origins that co-existence is possible. "Throughout her work with her organisation, Maison Shalom, Marguerite Barankitse sends a message of hope for the future," said Chamberlin. "Her actions are clear evidence that individual courage and commitment can make a difference in our world."

High Commissioner António Guterres, who was on mission in Uganda, sent a videotaped message congratulating Barankitse with the award: "Your story is a shining example to those who may have lost everything that there are still wonderful people in this world who deeply care about others."

Created in 1954, the Nansen Refugee Award is named after Fridtjof Nansen, the Norwegian explorer who was the League of Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees. As such, he was the world's first international refugee official. The prize is given annually to individuals or organizations to honour distinguished service in the cause of refugees.

The winner is selected each year by a Committee composed of the governments of Norway and Switzerland, UNHCR, the Council of Europe and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies. Last year's prize went to the Russian non-governmental organisation, Memorial Human Rights Center.

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