"They leave with a new purpose to their lives, full of ambition, hope and love."

For her lifetime's work helping children recover from sexual exploitation in Colombia's Caribbean coastal region, Mayerlin Vegara Perez, 45, has been named UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award Laureate 2020.
© UNHCR/Nicolo Filippo Rosso

Nansen Refugee Award

Established in 1954, the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award honours individuals, groups and organizations who go above and beyond the call of duty to protect refugees, displaced and stateless people.

We are delighted to announce that this year’s Laureate is Mayerlín Vergara Pérez.

Mayerlín (known as Maye) is a human rights activist, campaigner and the Caribbean Regional Coordinator for the Renacer Foundation, a non-governmental organization in Colombia that has been working for decades to eradicate the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, many of whom are refugees.

Maye lives and works in Riohacha on Colombia’s northeastern border with Venezuela where she runs a rehabilitation centre for dozens of child and teen survivors of sexual violence, trafficking and exploitation. The area has seen a spike in the sexual exploitation of young people including refugees and migrants fleeing the ongoing political, human rights and socio-economic crisis in Venezuela.

Meet Mayerlín

Attend the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award ceremony

Be sure to tune into our YouTube channel at 18:30 CET on 5 October to join the prestigious ceremony.

What you need to know

What is trafficking? Trafficking is a crime and a human rights violation in which a person is tricked or trapped into a situation of exploitation for another person’s private gain or profit.

Where does trafficking happen? Trafficking occurs in every country of the world, however the Americas accounts for the highest figures of child victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in the world (UNODC Report).

What does this have to do with refugees? Refugees, internally displaced and stateless people are at heightened risk of being trafficked. Desperate to find safety and a better life, displaced people might look for any way to flee their country, leaving them vulnerable to human trafficking networks.

What is UNHCR doing to help? UNHCR works to protect people forced to flee their homes—including potential or actual victims of trafficking. We deliver emergency shelter, food, medicine, clean water and psycho-social care to displaced people when they first flee their homes.

We help to provide people forced to flee with identity documents which enable them to go to school, get health care, and earn a living.

Critically, we advocate for governments to create safe and legal pathways for those who have fled their countries – including victims of trafficking – to seek asylum and be protected.

What you can do to help

Donate love logoDonate: Give now to protect people forced to flee and reduce their risk of trafficking and exploitation.

Speak out logoSpeak out: Take inspiration from Maye and join the call to #EndHumanTrafficking

Learn more logoLearn more: Find out more about human trafficking, why it’s a crime and how UNHCR with our partners are working to prevent it.

Meet the 2020 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Regional Winners

We are honoured to announce the Regional Winners of the 2020 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award, each selected from more than 200 nominees for their outstanding work with refugees, displaced and stateless people.

For the first time in the history of the Award, all the selected Regional Winners are women. The overall winner of the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award – who is not listed amongst the Regional Winners below – will be revealed on 1 October.

Uganda. Congolese refugee overcomes horror to win Nansen regional prize

AFRICA REGIONAL WINNER: Sabuni Francoise Chikunda

Francoise Sabuni Chikunda is a refugee school teacher from the Democratic Republic of Congo living in Uganda. She is the founder and chair of The Women's Centre helping victims and survivors of Sexual and Gender Based Violence.  

Meet Sabuni

Iran. Sports coach helping Afghans back to school wins Nansen regional prize


Rozma Ghafouri is an Afghan refugee living in Iran. She is an aspiring footballer using her love for sport to get refugee children off the streets and into the classroom.

Meet Rozma

Ukraine. Activist for people with disabilities wins Nansen Europe regional prize


Tetiana Barantsova, from Ukraine is a human rights activist and the co-founder of AMI-Skhid, an NGO which advocates for change and protection of the rights of people with disabilities, including disabled internally displaced people.

Meet Tetiana

Jordan. Children's reading advocate wins Nansen Middle East regional prize


Dr. Rana Dajani, a scientist and mother of four on a quest to make reading and learning accessible to refugee children. Dr. Dajani founded the We Love Reading project. The initiative aims to make books and reading accessible to children in every community including refugee camps. 

Meet Rana

Message from our Nansen Refugee Award partners