“I am nothing. I am an insect. I feel invisible. Animals are treated better than me. I wish I was never born”.
This is how Oscar-nominated filmmaker Nadine Labaki started her keynote speech at the 2019 Nansen Refugee Award ceremony on Monday, October 7, at the Batiment des Forces Motrices in Geneva. She was quoting the words of a stateless boy whom she met while conducting research for her film Capernaum.
The film tells the story of children in the slums of Beirut, using a cast of non-actors. The main storyline follows a 12-year-old boy who decides to sue his abusive parents, whom he's already fled from, for the "crime" of giving him life.
The film has been an award and record-breaking piece of work for Labaki, receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film and winning the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year.
Labaki has been vocal about the plight of stateless people and refugees since the making of the film, which has shed light on the issue both at her home country (Lebanon is home to over one million refugees) and around the world.
"Let us not forget it is words – man-made laws – that keep people in the shadows. It can be words and will that invite them back into our world. With the stroke of a pen, a stateless person can finally belong," she said. "It is not a matter of politics alone; this is a human tragedy. We can all influence decision-makers to change this status-quo."
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, honours individuals, groups and organisation who have taken action to protect refugees, displaced and stateless people. This year's award was given to human rights lawyer Azizbek Ashurov from Kyrgyz Republic for the work his organisation Ferghana Valley Lawyers Without Borders (FVLWB) has done in helping over 10,000 people to gain Kyrgyz nationality after they became stateless following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Winners receive $150,000 (Dh550,000), donated by the governments of Switzerland and Norway, to pursue a project to assist displaced people, developed in close consultation with the UNHCR.