Press Release

Nansen Refugee Award celebrates Afghan sports coach and youth counsellor in Iran as winner for the Asia region

21 September 2020

  • The everyday heroes from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East are being honoured for their outstanding humanitarian work.
Caption: Nansen Refugee Award Winner for the Asia region, Rozma Ghafouri, 29, leads a football coaching session for Afghan refugee girls in Shiraz, Iran.
Photo: © UNHCR/Fatameh Forootan Torkamani

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, jointly with the Embassy of Switzerland and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in the Islamic Republic of Iran, are today announcing Ms. Rozma Ghafouri, the Nansen Refugee Award winner for the Asia region.

Rozma, an Afghan refugee who fled her country for Iran 23 years ago, launched the Youth Initiative Fund in 2015 to help children at risk. Through sports activities and counselling sessions, she has successfully supported refugee and undocumented Afghan children, especially girls, get off streets, out of work and back into schools.

The 29-year-old draws on her own at-times harsh childhood, when she had to work to help support her family and had little time to study or enjoy her youth, to create a better future for children in her city of Shiraz.

With the backing of the Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants' Affairs (BAFIA) of the Iranian Ministry of Interior and UNHCR, the Youth Initiative Fund helps some 400 children per year in Shiraz.

“Rozma’s great personal resolve and her commitment to helping Afghan children build a better future for themselves is a heartwarming example of the power of an individual to inspire and mobilise action,” said Ivo Freijsen, UNHCR Representative in Iran.

Seeing what an impact the project has had on Afghan children’s lives in one province, BAFIA and UNHCR are in the process of duplicating it in other provinces of Iran.

Rozma is among four other regional winners worldwide who are being celebrated for this year’s Nansen Refugee Award for their humanitarianism and efforts to improve the lives of forcibly displaced people.

Their service and dedication to the protection of forcibly displaced people reflects the essence and spirit of Fridtjof Nansen - the namesake of the Award and the first High Commissioner for Refugees. Nansen was a renowned scientist, polar explorer and statesman, and was known for his perseverance in the face of adversity. The annual humanitarian prize seeks to shed light on and honour heroes within our communities who go above and beyond the call of duty to help refugees, displaced or stateless people.

“Switzerland supports the Nansen Refugee Award because people like Rozma Ghafouri deserve recognition and support for their enthusiasm and their commitment,” said Markus Leitner, Ambassador of Switzerland in Iran. “By bridging sport and education and bringing girls and young women back to school, her work serves as inspiration to many people in Iran and beyond.”

“Norway is a consistent partner in supporting the UNHCR’s work on refugees and displaced people, and the Nansen Reward is an important tool in highlighting the humanitarian efforts on the ground by people like Rozma Ghafouri, a young explorer of community-based support for Afghan children in Iran, “ said Sigvald Hauge, Ambassador-Designate of Norway in Iran.

The Swiss and Norwegian Governments are UNHCR’s partners in the Nansen Refugee Award project.

The overall winner of the Nansen Refugee Award will be revealed on 1 October.


You can access the press release here.

Nansen Refugee Award celebrates Afghan sports coach and youth counsellor in Iran as winner for the Asia region


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