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Awards honour refugee-led response to COVID-19 pandemic

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UNHCR’s 2020 NGO Innovation Awards honour the role of refugee-led organizations in helping forcibly displaced and vulnerable people cope during the pandemic.

A refugee radio station combatting COVID-19 misinformation in Kenya and a local group distributing food and medication to LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa were among the winners of the 2020 UNHCR NGO Innovation Awards, announced during a virtual ceremony on Thursday.

Every year, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, celebrates the innovative efforts and achievements of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in providing protection and services to refugees, forcibly displaced and stateless people. This year’s awards were dedicated to refugee-led organizations, in recognition of their leading role in the COVID-19 response.

“Through this award, we want to give a signal that – more than any other type of organization – refugee-led organizations have proven to be the most important and effective at finding innovative and local solutions to the challenges faced in their own communities during these difficult times,” Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said during the virtual ceremony.

From a record 410 nominations a total of seven winners were announced, one from each of the regions where UNHCR operates, who will each receive US$15,000 prize money.

The winners included Refugee Youth Education Hub, based in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee settlement to promote peace and development through learning. As well as setting up a library of over 60,000 books to help refugees continue learning during COVID-19, the organization also hosts a local radio show to provide refugees and host communities with updates during the pandemic and combat a surge of misinformation about the virus.

Morocco’s Association Vivre Ensemble (Live Together Association) promotes social cohesion among refugees and host communities in the country through youth activities in schools, summer camps, youth clubs and universities. In addition to providing food and rental assistance to refugee and Moroccan families during the pandemic, it has also shared life-saving information through digital outreach campaigns.

“We felt it was vital for the organization to be part of the response to COVID-19,” said Vivre Ensemble’s Hanin Joha.

The Fruit Basket is a South African NGO that advocates for the rights and safety of LGBTQI+ refugees, asylum seekers and migrants living in the country. Through appeals and crowdfunding campaigns, they have responded to some of the community’s most pressing needs during the pandemic, providing food, rent and medication as well as maintaining a sense of community for those experiencing social isolation.

In Honduras, Jóvenes Contra la Violencia (Youth Against Violence) was established by young leaders from communities affected by violence and forced displacement. During COVID-19, the organization developed a survey to identify vulnerable individuals within these communities and provide them with targeted support and information.

“This award is dedicated to every single person globally that was forced to flee from their home in search of protection,” said Jóvenes Contra la Violencia co-founder Santiago Ávila.

Other winners include Hero2B, set up by Syrian refugee Imad Elabdala in Sweden to help children overcome traumatic experiences through storytelling, psychosocial support and technology; Great Step Initiative, established by Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria’s Adagom settlement, which provides psychosocial counselling and set up a number of COVID-19 hotlines; and Indonesia’s Roshan Learning Centre, which established remote education tools and resources to help refugees continue learning during the pandemic.