This year’s Nansen Refugee Award will go to the Colombian women’s rights group “Butterflies” for helping women who have experienced torture or rape in their country.
UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) decided to recognise the work of Red Mariposas de Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro – or Butterflies with New Wings Building a Future.
Its members risk their lives to help survivors of forced displacement and sexual abuse. Based in the Pacific coastal city of Buenaventura, Butterflies, who are all volunteers, have so far helped over 1000 women and their families.
"These women are doing extraordinary work in the most challenging of contexts," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres." Each day they seek to heal the wounds of the women and children of Buenaventura and in doing so put their own lives at risk. Their bravery goes beyond words".
High Commissioner Guterres went on to say: "The situation in Buenaventura illustrates the devastating impact of conflict on families and how essential the work of Butterflies is".
"In their battle to gain territory, illegal armed groups in Buenaventura aim to destroy the social fabric of communities. They violate the most vulnerable by sexual assault, kidnap and murder. Butterflies' volunteers take the displaced and abused under their wing and help them to reclaim their lives and assert their rights," he added.
UNHCR's special envoy Actress Angelina Jolie praised the work of the winners. As a staunch advocate for ending impunity for sexual violence in conflict, Ms Jolie said Butterflies' work is life-saving.
"The Mariposas draw on their strengths as women to help thousands of vulnerable people who would otherwise have no rights and no protection. By winning this award, I hope it helps more people everywhere to understand that we have to change attitudes to sexual violence, and to help end impunity for these crimes," said Ms. Jolie.
The announcement of this year’s winners of the Nansen Refugee Award coincides with the release of a special report, “Buenaventura, Colombia: Brutal Realities”, published by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). The report shows that paramilitary groups in Colombia systematically use the rape of women and children to terrorise the civilian population and to control key drug trafficking routes.
“Butterflies is a worthy recipient of the award, as they give hope to Colombia’s most vulnerable in one of the world’s worst conflict areas,” said NRC Secretary General, Jan Egeland.
NRC said that many of the women of the Butterflies network have themselves experienced displacement, violence and rape. They voluntarily travel by foot, bicycle or bus to the most dangerous areas of Buenaventuras to help abused women receive medical and psychological care and report crimes to the authorities.
“The extreme security risks makes Butterflies’ activities very demanding and worthy of great praise,” said NRC Country Director in Colombia, Christian Visnes.