Migration crisis takes centre stage at Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize award ceremony

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© UNESCO/C. Alyx
27 June 2017

Giuseppina Nicolini, former Mayor of Lampedusa, Italy, and the French nongovernmental organization SOS Méditerranée today received the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize in a ceremony at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France.

The many personalities taking part in the ceremony spoke of the challenge posed by the migration crisis affecting countries around the Mediterranean. They also stressed the need to welcome refugees with respect for their dignity and humanity.

“The tragedy of migrants and refugees raises questions about dignity and solidarity today, all our concepts of mutual aid, public action and social justice and should be seen through this lens,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, who praised the courage and determination of the laureates.

The Director-General went on to thank them for reminding the world that, “migrants are neither a burden nor a threat. They are the mirror of the humanity we all share in all its dignity and responsibility.”

“The commitment and determination of the two laureates are models for us and for future generations,” declared President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire. “In awarding you this prestigious recognition, the Jury of the Prize, calls on the international community to ensure that the Mediterranean cease to be the stage of tragedy but that it become a place of intercultural exchange, solidarity and dialogue.”

“The migration crisis facing the countries of the Mediterranean and all of Europe represents a historic challenge due to its scope,” said Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs. “It is the biggest movement of population since the end of the Second World War. In fighting to save the lives of refugees and migrants and undertaking to welcome them with dignity, the laureates have taken on board an ideal of human fraternity to which I pay tribute today,” he declared.

The Director-General of UNESCO presented the Prize to the laureates:

Giuseppina Nicolini, who distinguished herself by fighting for the rights of migrants when she was Mayor of Lampedusa and Linosa from 2012 to 2017, said: “I feel that everything I did was quite ordinary. Every corpse that washed ashore outraged me, because all of those drowned bodies came from boats about which nobody would have been aware in the absence of survivors. I refuse to think it is inevitable that fortress Europe cause the death of people who will not let war, persecution, violence and poverty kill them […] I simply rebelled against the idea that Lampedusa be sacrificed on the altar of selfishness.”

SOS Méditerranée, an NGO dedicated to rescuing lives in the high seas, was created in 2015 by European citizens who mobilized to face the humanitarian emergency unfolding in the Mediterranean.

“The primary duty that befalls us all, and we have no choice in this, is to give a hand to those who are drowning. It is a matter of absolute urgency to run a rescue operation worthy of its name and commensurate with the tragedy we face. Because thousands of lives can be saved,” declared Sophie Beau, co-founder of SOS Méditerranée.

“Our goal is that the Mediterranean become a humane, civil sea,” added Klaus Vogel, another co-founder of SOS Méditerranée at the ceremony.

Other distinguished participants at the ceremony included: Abdou Diouf, former President of Senegal and Sponsor of the Prize, Henri Konan Bédié, former President of Côte d’Ivoire, Michaëlle Jean, Secretary General of the International Organisation of La Francophonie, Maria Böhmer, Germany’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vincenza Lomonaco, Italy’s Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO and Joaquin Chissano, former President of Mozambique and President of the Jury of the Prize.

The Felix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize was created in 1989 to honour individuals and active public or private bodies or institutions that have made a significant contribution to promoting, seeking, safeguarding or maintaining peace.