© UNHCR/Asif Shahzad
Location icon Worldwide

Five moments that made us smile in 2023

As 2023 comes to an end, we look back on some of the moments that gave us hope throughout the year.

1. Anyier Yuol wins the Les Murray Award

Anyier Yuol 3
© Australia for UNHCR
Les Murray Award winner, Anyier Yuol.

Former South Sudanese refugee Anyier Yuol won the 2023 Australia for UNHCR – SBS Les Murray Award for Refugee Recognition for her diverse achievements across sport, women’s empowerment and refugee advocacy.

Born in a UNHCR camp in Kenya, Anyier came to Australia on a humanitarian visa at the age of 10 with her sister and her father’s family. Despite the challenges of living in a new country, Anyier eventually found a way to connect with others through sport and make a difference for displaced people.

“You can’t be neutral when it comes to issues of human rights,” said Anyier. “If you have the privilege and you have the voice, use it.”

2. Two friends sell homemade rocky road for refugees

Fundraisers, Mary Lou and Therese wear UNHCR shirts
© Australia for UNHCR
Mary Lou Byrne and Therese Briggs sell rocky road to fundraise for refugees.

After visiting an immigration detention centre and hearing the stories of refugees, Mary Lou Byrne teamed up with her friend Therese Briggs to fundraise for Australia for UNHCR. They started organising trivia and film nights, where they served their own sweets. Then they hit on a new fundraising idea – selling Mary Lou’s signature rocky road. Their efforts have certainly made an impact. In the five years they’ve been selling rocky road, the women have raised $34,000 for refugees.

“If you want to fundraise for UNHCR, I’d suggest looking at something you already do,” said Mary Lou. “You just need to do a little more of that and put it towards a good cause."

3. 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup unites refugees

Australia. HASA refugee football players
© Supplied
Young refugee footballers at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium ahead of a Women's World Cup match.

During the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup event in Australia, FIFA partnered with UNHCR to promote a message of peace and unity.

“For displaced people, football can be a game-changer to help overcome the many challenges they face,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Crucially, it fosters inclusion in the communities where they have found safety.”

As part of the initiative, young athletes from Hope Australia Soccer Academy (HASA,) were invited to experience the thrill of a tournament. HASA is a not-for-profit sports program focused on developing football and life skills for its members – many of whom are refugees from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

4. Syrian refugee journalist changes lives

Syrian refugee Alaa Alqasem.
© Supplied
Refugee journalist, Alaa Alqasem.

Alaa Alqasem was a student at Damascus University when war broke out in Syria in 2011. She fled with her family to Jordan, joining thousands of Syrian refugees displaced by the fighting. Despite this, Alaa was determined to finish her education. Eventually, she completed a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Now, she is using the power of storytelling to bring awareness to the plight of refugees and call for action.

“I write about refugees’ stories and education in order to reach the decision makers, the people who have the power to provide opportunities such as scholarships or support innovative ideas from refugees,” said Alaa. “These ideas aren’t only for refugees or host communities; they are ideas for the whole word.”

5. Rohingya refugees win Nansen Award

© UNHCR/Susan Hopper
L-R: Nansen Refugee Award Regional Winners for Asia and the Pacific Sahat Zia Hero, Salim Khan, Sahida Win and Abdullah Habib.

Stories linger behind every doorway and in every marketplace at Kutapalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Rohingya refugees Zia, Abdullah, Salim and Shahida use photography to find and share those stories with the world.

This commitment has led to their recognition as the 2023 winners of the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award for Asia and the Pacific. The award honours individuals, groups and organisations who go above and beyond to protect refugees and internally displaced and stateless people.

“Our stories show that we exist,” said Shahida. “And we have to tell our own stories, because we are the ones who know them best.”