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Somali-born champion of refugee education wins top UNHCR award

November 28, 2023
Abdullahi Mire (far right) is supporting education initiatives in Dadaab refugee complex in northeastern Kenya. — courtesy UNSOM
Abdullahi Mire (far right) is supporting education initiatives in Dadaab refugee complex in northeastern Kenya. — courtesy UNSOM

NAIROBI — A former child refugee born in Somalia, who dedicated himself to changing lives through education, has been named as this year’s winner of the prestigious UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award.

Abdullahi Mire grew up in the sprawling Dadaab refugee complex in northeastern Kenya with its population today of more than 240,000 registered refugees, mostly from Somalia.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) coordinates operations there together with partners, relying also on the support of the Kenyan government and host communities.

The majority of the population, around 56 percent according to 2020 figures, are children.

At that point there were over 60,000 students enrolled up to secondary school level, but despite that, the demand for teachers, supplies and classroom space, has long outstripped supply, leading to poor educational outcomes.

Of those managing to complete secondary school only a small number have been able to carry on into tertiary education.

Mire spent 23 years living in the Dadaab complex himself, from the early 1990s, and eventually went on to graduate with a diploma in journalism and public relations in 2013 from Kenya’s Kenyatta University.

After working for the UN migration agency IOM, in Somalia, specializing in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants, he realized that without being literate, many were being brainwashed and radicalized.

His experience led him to start the Refugee Youth Education Hub (RYEH) in 2018, focusing on refugee education and youth development.

“I want to change the lives of refugee children and youth living in Daadab”, he told the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) in 2020.

“The only way to do that is through education. If you give quality education for these children or youths, their lives will be improved for good,” he added.

“For societies to progress, especially the ones recovering from decades of conflict, education must be a priority. I think it’s the midwife of peace and stability, if not more.”

Speaking ahead of the award announcement, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said: “Abdullahi Mire is living proof that transformative ideas can spring from within displaced communities.

“He has shown great resourcefulness and tenacity in strengthening the quality of refugee education.”

UNHCR noted that after growing up in the Dadaab camps, Mire had resettled to Norway, “but a yearning to serve his community drew him back”.

His education hub has opened three libraries in the camps — stocked with donated books — and expanded learning opportunities for tens of thousands of displaced children and youth.

“The win is not for me alone,” said Mire, 36. “It is for all the volunteers I work with... It is for the children in the schools.”

Regional winners

UNHCR also announced the regional winners to be honored this year:

• Elizabeth Moreno Barco (Americas): a human rights defender who advocates for communities affected by armed internal conflict in Colombia

• Asia Al-Mashreqi (Middle East & North Africa): founder and chairperson of the Sustainable Development Foundation, which has assisted nearly two million individuals in Yemen affected by conflict

• Abdullah Habib, Sahat Zia Hero, Salim Khan and Shahida Win (Asia-Pacific): four Rohingya storytellers documenting the experiences of stateless Rohingya refugees

• Lena Grochowska and Władysław Grochowski (Europe): a Polish couple whose hotel chain and foundation provide shelter and training to refugees

The awards will be presented at a ceremony in Geneva on Dec. 13 at the Global Refugee Forum 2023.

Hosted by the prominent US television journalist Ann Curry, the event will showcase the winners’ work and feature performances by Lous and the Yakuza, MIYAVI and Ricky Kej. It will also be livestreamed.

The awards are made possible through support from the governments of Norway and Switzerland, IKEA Foundation, and the City and Canton of Geneva.

They are named after the Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen. —UN News


November 28, 2023
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