Giusy Nicolini, mayor of the small Italian island of Lampedusa, was awarded the UNESCO Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize on April 19, 2017.
The prize is awarded to a person or organization that has made “a significant contribution to promoting, seeking, safeguarding or maintaining peace”. Previous winners include Nelson Mandela and Francois Hollande. Nicolini received the prize for her work in managing the refugee crisis and shared the prize with SOS Mediterranee, a refuge assistance organization.
Since the early 2000’s, its proximity to Libya and Tunisia has made Lampedusa a common transit point for migrants from Africa and the Middle East attempting to flee their home countries via the Mediterranean Sea. This journey has proven extremely dangerous; during Easter week alone, at least 663 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean. Since her election in 2012, Mayor Nicolini has committed herself to efforts to both rescue and integrate migrants who seek refuge in Lampedusa, even as her counterparts in other Mediterranean nations switch their focus to keeping migrants out.
“To be awarded a prize with this motivation,” she said in receiving the award, “gives us hope for solidarity in Europe, where a sense of humanity has not disappeared, even though this is a moment when borders are being closed and walls raised as people speak of an invasion that does not exist. In that way we ourselves are at risk of drowning together with the refugees and migrants who try to cross the Mediterranean Sea.”