The people of Canada on Monday were awarded the Nansen Medal, the highest distinction bestowed by the United Nations for aid to refugees, a U.N. announcement said.
The annual award, previously always accorded to an individual, went to the Canadian nation “in recognition of the major and sustained contribution made to the cause of refugees in their country and throughout the world over the years,” the announcement said.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Jean-Pierre Hocke will present the medal to Governor General Jeanne Sauve in Ottawa on Nov. 13.
“We are very proud and very honored that the United Nations has chosen to recognize the whole of our community,” said Minister of State for Immigration Gerry Weiner, speaking in a telephone interview from Montreal. “We try to show that Canada is a country of a heart and a soul.”
The medal is named after the late Norwegian scholar and explorer Fridtjof Nansen, the first high commissioner for refugees, who was appointed in 1921 under the old League of Nations, forerunner of the United Nations.
Hocke said Monday that Canada has always supported international efforts on behalf of refugees and has an honorable record of receiving people fleeing persecution in all parts of the world.
Between 1979 and 1984, more than 129,000 of the 553,000 migrants who arrived in Canada were refugees. Most came from Southeast Asia and others from East Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.
Canada is a leading contributor to international humanitarian and aid programs, and many Canadian organizations are helping refugees in Africa, Asia and Central America.
A $50,000 prize awarded together with the Nansen medal will be used to fund a new refugee aid project being established in connection with the award, Hocke said.