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Honduran wins the 2021 Regional UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award for the Americas

Honduran wins the 2021 Regional UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award for the Americas

30 Septiembre 2021
Santiago Ávila (left), director of Youth Against Violencia, and his friend and former band member, Fabián Zúñiga.


Santiago Ávila Corrales, a social worker committed to preventing others from suffering the same violence that marked his life, is the Regional Winner for the Americas of this year’s Nansen Refugee Award, a humanitarian award given annually by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

Ávila Corrales was born in one of the most violent neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. The murder of his younger brother by gang members forced him and the rest of his family to leave their home. In response to this event, Santiago and other young people formed the organization Youth Against Violence (Jóvenes contra la Violencia) in Honduras, which works with children and young people between the ages of six and 20. For the past 10 years, Santiago has dedicated his life to empowering the Honduran youth so that they can escape forced recruitment by criminal groups.

“Violence breaks organizational processes. The violence that stigmatizes young people can be transformed through their leadership. These young people have been both victims and stigmatized by this violence. I believe that this is what Santiago invites us to do. In places where Santiago and his team have worked, they have achieved this transformation,” said Andrés Celis, UNHCR Representative in Honduras.

The UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award is given to individuals, groups, and organizations that go above and beyond the call of duty to protect refugees and other displaced and stateless people. There have been over 60 global winners from different countries since the award was first established in 1954.

Santiago is currently the Director of Youth Against Violence, an organization that creates safe spaces where at-risk children and young people can escape pressure from criminal groups.

“Many of these young people are ‘seduced’ by the maras and gangs. They don’t want to be part of them, but there are no other groups in their community. That’s why we go there and create a new group, so that children have an alternative,” Santiago explained.

In 2019, Youth Against Violence’s relentless activism and lobbying contributed to the adoption of the Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Items Control Act. This Act reduced the number of guns a person can legally use. In 2020, the organization successfully presented a bill on Forced Displacement for debate by the National Congress.  

With more than 34,400 recognized refugees around the world and 148,934 asylum-seekers, Honduras ranks fourth among countries with the highest number of asylum-seekers, a list that is led by Syria. It is also estimated that endemic violence has displaced at least 247,000 people within the country, 66% of whom are under the age of 30.

A 2019 characterization study of internal displacement in Honduras that was conducted by the government with support from UNHCR found that 46% of the people who were internally displaced between 2004 and 2018 had to interrupt or abandon their education. Teachers also face risks such as extortion, threats and sexual violence, which contribute to their forced displacement.  

“One of the main challenges faced by Honduran young people is society’s silence regarding the situation they face in their communities, and the fact that young people are not often incorporated into solutions to these problems,” explained Andrés Celis.

In 2019, Youth Against Violence received UNHCR’s Youth Initiative Fund and has worked as one of UNHCR’s partners in Honduras since 2020. The organization has implemented innovative programs for young people in schools and communities facing the highest risks in the country. In addition, UNHCR is working closely with local and national government institutions to prepare for the implementation of the normative framework on internal displacement in Honduras once it has been approved by Congress.

Global winner and other regional winners

This year, Yemen’s Jeel Albena Human Development Association won the 2021 Nansen Refugee Award. The organization has provided support for the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people displaced by conflict in the country. In addition, five regional winners were selected, including the winner from the Americas:

  • Dr. Saleema Rehman, a 29-year-old Afghan refugee physician who is living and practicing medicine in Pakistan, was selected as the winner in Asia, not just for her courage and dedication as a medical professional in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also for being a force for change by promoting girls’ education.
  • Nikola Kovačević (32) is an independent human rights lawyer who was selected as the winner in Europe for defending the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers in the Balkan region.
  • Two people won the award in Africa. Roukiatou Maiga, a 55-year-old woman from Burkina Faso was recognized for her advocacy on behalf of internally displaced people and her actions to help them receive assistance. Chief Dianbendi Madiega, also from Burkina Faso, has advocated for the rights of people displaced by conflict and provided them with shelter.

The founder of the Jeel Albena Association, Ameen Jubran, will receive the award on behalf of his team at a virtual ceremony on October 4, 2021. The award consists of a commemorative medal and a monetary prize of $150,000 USD. Regional winners will also be recognized at the ceremony.

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UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, leads international action to protect people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. We deliver life-saving assistance like shelter, food and water; help safeguard fundamental human rights; and develop solutions that ensure people have a safe place to call home where they can build a better future. We also work to ensure that stateless people are granted a nationality.

For more information about UNHCR, please visit https://www.unhcr.org/about-us.html.