Illegal north African immigrants wait to be transfered out of the southernmost Italian island of Lampedusa, March 31, 2011.(Xinhua/Wang qingqin)
ROME, April 20 (Xinhua) -- UNESCO on Wednesday awarded its peace prize to Giuseppina (Giusi) Nicolini, the mayor of the Italian island of Lampedusa, for her commitment to saving the lives of migrants and refugees who flee across the the Mediterranean on often unseaworthy boats.
Lying closer to Tunisia than it does to Sicily, Lampedusa is the first European landfall for people fleeing war and economic hardship in Africa and the Middle East. Since becoming mayor in 2012, Nicolini has been an outspoken defender of refugee and migrant rights.
The UNESCO peace prize jury "recognized (Nicolini) for her boundless humanity and unwavering commitment to refugee crisis management and integration in response to the arrival of thousands of refugees on the shores of Lampedusa and elsewhere in Italy."
"Refugees and migrants constitute one of the crucial issues of our day, notably in the Mediterranean where nearly 13,000 men, women and children have perished in shipwrecks since 2013," declared the acting president of the jury, Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique.
A total of 8,360 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean between April 14-16 and approximately 32,800 people have been brought to land since the beginning of 2017, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
So far this year, at least 900 migrants have died or have gone missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean, according to IOM's Missing Migrants Project.
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni tweeted his praise for the island mayor. "UNESCO assigns its peace prize to Giusi Nicolini, who for years has been committed to the right side on Lampedusa," Gentiloni tweeted.
"It is a very beautiful day for my community and for all who contribute to building peace," tweeted Nicolini, who leads a population of just over 6,500 residents on the Italian island of about 20 square miles.