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2017 Anne Frank Awards Focus on Work With Refugees and Scholars in At Risk Countries

By Carrie Snurr

On Thursday, September 14 the Embassy of the Netherlands awarded Father Leo O’Donovan and Robert Quinn at the Anne Frank Awards Ceremony held in the members room of the Library of Congress.

Father O’Donovan received the Anne Frank award in recognition of his work with refugees through the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. Robert Quinn received the Anne Frank Special Recognition Award for his work with Scholars at Risk, assisting teachers and researchers who have been threatened by their governments.

“Together, we can save today’s Anne Frank,” Quinn said while accepting his award. “All we have to do is help one more. One more refugee. One more scholar. One more family. That is the measure of our success. Each time we help one more we honor the legacy of Anne Frank and we change history for the better.”

Senator Patrick Leahy Anne Frank Awards Library of Congress
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), provides opening remarks for the Anne Frank Awards ceremony in the members room at the Library of Congress on September 14.  (Photo: Stephen Voss/Royal Netherlands Embassy)

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Rep. Bill Huizinga (R-MI) with the Congressional Dutch Caucus and Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke at the ceremony. Ambassador to the Netherlands Henne Schuwer presented the awards. Albright provided an introduction of Father O’Donovan, whom she worked for when he was president of Georgetown University.

“We are here to salute his sense of purpose and his leadership for the Jesuit Refugee Service of the United States,” Albright said. “The world today is witnessing the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of World War II. This is a test for all of humanity and for the United States, which has always been the world leader in refugee resettlement.”

The award is named for Anne Frank whose diary detailed the two years she and her family spent hiding from the Nazis in the Netherlands. The award recognizes an American for their work to fight intolerance, racism and anti-semitism. It was created in 2014.

“He’s been a great patron of helping refugees,” Leahy said of Father O’Donovan in his opening remarks. “We must stand up, we must speak out for refugees. This is a great country bit it is made up of people who’ve come from other countries. We can live in comfort but these desperate, innocent people people can’t.”

Father Leo J O'Donovan Henne Schuwer Kingdom of the Netherlands Library of Congress Anne Frank Awards
Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands Henne Schuwer presents the 2017 Anne Frank Award to Father Leo O’Donovan for his work with the Jesuit Refugee Service which advocates on the behalf of refugees worldwide. (Photo: Stephen Voss/Royal Netherlands Embassy)

Albright recalled dancing with O’Donovan at a birthday party during her introduction speech and the two recreated that dance when O’Donovan stood to accept his award.

O’Donovan was visibly moved by his award which featured a small sculpture of a seed with leaves from the chestnut tree Anne saw from her window while she and her family were hiding from the Nazis in the Netherlands. He paused to hold back his emotion before beginning his speech.

“Actually, that’s a little too moving,” He said after receiving the award from Schuwer. “Anne’s ability to see the dignity in every person extended to the potential of their humanity.”

The Jesuit Refugee Service works to ensure that refugees are given access to education and advocates for the rights of refugees. The group hopes that through their work, they can create a better life for the refugees they help.

O’Donovan wrote an open letter to President Donald Trump in response to the refugee ban, expressing his fear that the U.S. was moving in the wrong direction and urging the president to reconsider the ban.

Refugees have been fleeing civil war in the Middle East, specifically from Syria. Millions of people have fled their homes, migrating to Turkey and Europe. President Trump has come under fire for banning the United States’ refugee program.

Robert Quinn Henne Schuwer Kindom of the Netherlands Library of Congress Anne Frank Awards
Henne Schuwer presents the Anne Frank Special Recognition Award to Robert Quinn for his work as the founding executive director of Scholars at Risk which assists scholars who face threats in their home countries. (Photo: Stephen Voss/Royal Netherlands Embassy)

O’Donovan served as the president of Georgetown University from 1989 to 2001 and helped to triple the school’s endowment. He serves as the Director of Mission for the Refugee Service.

Under his leadership, the Jesuit Refugee Service created a plan to double the number of refugees they help over the span of five years. He has advocated on behalf of refugees.

“I am deeply disappointed that the Trump administration has not taken Father Leo’s words to heart,” Albright said after quoting part of O’Donovan’s letter. “In fact, it seems to be moving even further in the wrong direction.”

The blanket ban on all refugees except those with close family already in the United States signed by President Trump will remain in effect until October 24. It was put in place through an executive order in March, after the first order, which only banned refugees from Syria was halted by Federal judges in January and February.

Madeleine Albright Library of Congress Kingdom of the Netherlands Anne Frank Awards
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright introduces Father Leo O’Donovan, whom she worked under when O’Donovan was president of Georgetown University. (Photo: Stephen Voss/Royal Netherlands Embassy)

Robert Quinn is the founding executive director for Scholars at Risk. Scholars at Risk is an organization that works with scholars and researchers under threat from their home countries and works to pair them with partnership universities and colleges around the world so those scholars can work in a more protected environment.

“That is what Scholars at Risk Network is trying to do,” Quinn said “To see the world through the eyes of our colleagues who are facing threats, and to act and to help them whenever and however we can.”

Scholars at Risk has helped over 1,000 scholars since 2000 by arranging positions at sanctuary universities around the world. The advocate for academic freedom in addition to promoting safety of scholars.

“Thank you for your activism,” Schuwer said. “Thank you for not walking away from the problems in the world. Thank you for being our honorees this year, for the Anne Frank Awards.”

Scholars from Iran, Ethiopia and Turkey who have received assistance from Scholars at Risk attended the ceremony. Elham Fanoos, a musician from Afghanistan, provided a small piano performance at the ceremony.


Carrie Snurr is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.



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