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Syrian-Lebanese champion of refugee rights wins Rafto Prize

Lebanon has welcomed between 1.5 to 2 million Syrians

Syrian-Lebanese champion of refugee rights wins Rafto Prize
Rouba Mhaissen has been lauded as a "vocal and courageous" figure who speaks out on the forced return of Syrian refugees (AFP)

NORWAY: Syrian-Lebanese economist Rouba Mhaissen won Norway’s Rafto Prize on Thursday for her work defending the rights of Syrian refugees, the Rafto Foundation said.

Mhaissen, 31, is the founder and director of SDAID, an organization that has since 2011 helped Syrians displaced by the war in their country and living as refugees in Lebanon. 

“Rouba Mhaissen has contributed locally to improving the lives of people living as refugees in Lebanon in ways that protect their dignity and right to self-determination,” the Rafto Foundation said in a statement.

Lebanon, which has four million inhabitants, says it has welcomed between 1.5 to 2 million Syrians, including one million listed as UN refugees, often living in precarious conditions.

Mhaissen said she was “very happy to see that Syria and Syrian refugees still have a place in the international community and are remembered.”

“The situation is very dire. Even after eight years, refugees here still do not have access to their basic rights, whether it’s the right to mobility, the right to education, the right to life,”  she told broadcaster TV2.

“And today there are increasing pressures on refugees to return prematurely even though the war in Syria is not over”.

In August, Amnesty International accused the country of “forcibly deporting” nearly 2,500 Syrians refugees back to their war-torn homeland.

Mhaissen is “a vocal and courageous front figure, speaking out against mounting pressure for the forced return of Syrian refugees, using insights and documentation of the experiences of those that have returned,” the Rafto Foundation said.

The $20,000 (18,270-euro) prize will be formally presented to her at a ceremony in Bergen, in western Norway, on November 3.

Named after the late Norwegian human rights activist Thorolf Rafto, four past winners of the prize (Aung San Suu Kyi, Jose Ramos-Horta, Kim Dae-Jung and Shirin Ebadi) went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which is also awarded in Norway.

The Nobel laureate for 2019 will be announced on October 11.

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