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Lebanon Mine Clearing Program Wins Nansen Refugee Award

The British head of the U.N. Mine Action Program in southern Lebanon, Christopher Clark, and his 990-member team of mine clearers will receive the 2008 Nansen Refugee Award. The U.N. refugee agency says the prize recipients are being honored for their courageous work in clearing tons of deadly munitions leftover from Israel's war with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. Lisa Schlein reports from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.  

The war only lasted five weeks, but it caused incalculable damage. During that period, more than two million explosive bomblets from Israeli cluster munitions were scattered over southern Lebanon, according to the United Nations.  

More than 750,000 Lebanese fled their homes in the south to safer places in the country and another quarter of a million people fled to Syria or further afield.  

U.N. refugee spokeswoman Astrid Van Genderen Stort says it is thanks to Christopher Clark and his team of de-miners that these refugees and internally displaced people have been able to return to their land.

"It was very important for UNHCR because we could bring our refugees and internally displaced back in safety and dignity," said Astrid Van Genderen Stort. "Of course it is still something that is going on because clearing a big piece of land, the whole of southern Lebanon of so many bomblets is an incredible job and they are still ongoing with it. But in the meantime, hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced have been able to return back."  

In 2003, the U.N. Mine Action Program in southern Lebanon, headed by Christopher Clark, began clearing landmines, unexploded ordnance and other remnants of war left over from previous conflicts.

Genderen Stort tells VOA by July 2006, they had cleared most of southern Lebanon.

"And, then suddenly the war broke out and in a period of five weeks all the work that they had done, but, suddenly there were between 2.6 and four million new cluster bomblets, which is a totally different thing from landmines and unexploded ordnance," she said. "They look different. They are very small. They can hang in the trees. They can be hidden in the garden. In Lebanon, I saw a lot of the bomblets in the agricultural fields and tobacco fields and that is, of course. If people can return home, but they cannot work, they are basically blocked."

The Nansen Prize is named after Norwegian explorer, author and Nobel Laureate Fridtjof Nansen, who was the first High Commissioner for Refugees.

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