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Winners of the 2016 Nansen Refugee Award Announced

This vast pile of lifejackets in northern Lesvos, ten acres wide and five metres high, is a haunting reminder of the dangers faced by refugees who arrived on Greek shores in 2015. Many of these jackets are fake, filled with Styrofoam or plastic. “This place symbolizes the hopes and dreams of people, the fear, and the dangerous journey they made to get here,” says Efi Latsoudi, a human rights activist who runs "PIKPA village" on Lesvos. “Now that I see these lifejackets fading, I hope that the memory of what happened here will not fade away.” Konstantinos Mitragas, whose Hellenic Rescue Team (HRT) spent much of 2015 rescuing refugees from Greek and Turkish waters, says 2015 is a year neither of them will ever forget. “I think we both hope that we will never live that again. This is something we’ll carry with us for the rest of our lives.” ; Efi Latsoudi, a human rights activist behind "PIKPA village" on the Greek island of Lesvos, and Konstantinos Mitragas on behalf of the Hellenic Rescue Team are joint winners of UNHCR’s Nansen Award 2016. The award recognizes their tireless efforts to aid refugee arrivals in Greece during 2015. Greece has been at the center of Europe’s escalating refugee crisis since 2012. On the island of Lesvos alone, record numbers of refugees and migrants arrived last year, as conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq continued to uproot people from their homes. Other Greek islands, including Samos and Kos, also became safe havens, with thousands of people taking to unseaworthy boats to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey. For many, the heroic humanitarian efforts of Latsoudi and Mitragas turned out to be the difference between life and death.

Efi Latsoudi, a human rights activist behind “PIKPA village” on the Greek island of Lesvos, and Konstantinos Mitragas on behalf of the Hellenic Rescue Team are joint winners of UNHCR’s Nansen Award 2016. The award recognizes their tireless efforts to aid refugee arrivals in Greece during 2015.

Konstantinos Mitragas on behalf of the Hellenic Rescue Team (HRT) and Efi Latsoudi, the human rights activist behind “PIKPA village” on the Greek island of Lesvos, are joint winners of UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award 2016.

The award recognizes their tireless voluntary efforts to aid refugees arriving in Greece during 2015, and reflects the spirit of volunteerism across Europe at the height of the refugee and migrant emergency.

Since 2007, Greece has been challenged by the arrival of a large number of refugees and migrants, but in 2015 sea arrivals escalated to an emergency. On the island of Lesvos alone, numbers topped 500,000 last year. In October 2015, arrivals peaked at more than 10,000 per day, as conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq continued to uproot people from their homes.

Other Greek islands, including Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos also hosted refugees as thousands more risked the freezing waters, fake lifejackets and surging storms in order to find safety.

For many refugees, the heroic humanitarian efforts of Greek volunteers in 2015 went well beyond pulling survivors from the seas, they helped them to take the first steps towards a normal life.

The 2016 Nansen winners stood with refugees, show your support now #WithRefugees

During 2015 the HRT conducted round-the-clock operations to save refugees and migrants in distress at sea and Latsoudi showed compassion and care for the most vulnerable refugees arriving on the island of Lesvos through her work at PIKPA village.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi paid tribute to the efforts of the winner of the global humanitarian award. “Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflict and persecution last year made the desperate bid to reach Europe in search of safety, many risking their lives in unseaworthy boats and dinghies, in a journey which all too often proved insurmountable,” he said.

“Both the Hellenic Rescue Team and Efi Latsoudi refused to stand by as they witnessed the dramatic humanitarian situation unfolding on their shores, and are fully deserving of the Nansen Refugee Award. Their efforts characterize the massive public response to the refugee and migrant emergency in Greece and across Europe, in which thousands of people stood in solidarity with those forced to flee, and the humanity and generosity of communities around the world who open their hearts and homes to refugees.”

Follow the links below for stories profiling the outstanding efforts of HRT and Latsoudi to stand with refugees when they needed it most.