WASHINGTON — “At a time when bitterness and disaffection are on the rise, we have to come together to speak up against intolerance, xenophobia, and racism,” began Jorge Sampaio, former president of Portugal and a distinguished former trustee of Carnegie Corporation of New York. He was addressing some 500 guests who gathered on April 30 in Washington, DC, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Refugees International organization.
Sampaio and Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York, were awarded the organization’s highest honor, the McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award, for their steadfast leadership in the international community and for their work to ensure funding for displaced Syrian students and scholars through the Global Platform for Syrian Students and through Carnegie Corporation of New York’s support.
“This year’s awardees have demonstrated incredible willingness to take on the most difficult challenges and push the international community to do better in pursuit of justice and human rights,” said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International.
As the founder and chairman of the Global Platform for Syrian Students, President Sampaio has managed the impossible task of gathering an emergency consortium of governments, regional and international organizations, donor agencies, foundations, universities, faith-based organizations, and various ethnic and cultural NGOs, along with the private sector and individuals. Sampaio’s agenda has been and continues to be the rescue of as many students as possible, providing them with a home and the opportunity to be educated, so that they might serve as future resources for their societies.
“To stand up with the most vulnerable, with men, women, and young people around the world, and join efforts to live up to their aspirations for a life of dignity and respect, this is what Refugees International has been doing for the last 40 years,” said Sampaio via a video recording addressed to guests at the gala. He concluded with an appeal: “Let’s all together step up our shared responsibility for fostering peaceful, just, and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence.”
The audience responded enthusiastically. Sampaio’s remarks were followed by a message from Eileen Shields-West, Refugees International board chair, explaining how she came to know and be impressed by the Global Platform: “President Sampaio offered how he envisioned a time when these students, armed and emboldened with their degrees, would return one day to Syria to become contributing members of their society. He practically moved us to tears with his passion for this cause and the value of scholarship in tearing down borders and building communities of people who value learning and scholarship.”