All thanks to Nansen

The Englishman Mike Sharp has been transporting people to Antarctica since the mid-1970s. But in his opinion, Nansen is a greater hero than Amundsen.
A Nansen passport issued to a Russian refugeeA Nansen passport issued to a Russian refugee. Photo: The National Archives of Norway

When winter approaches in Sheffield, Sharp migrates south with his Chilean partner. For him, winter means Southern Hemisphere summer. He has seen the development of modern adventure travel and tourism with his own eyes. He knows all the Norwegians who have skied to the South Pole. At present, Sharp is working hard with Antarctic operations Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE) to ensure that this centenary season, and the celebration of Amundsen’s flag raising, will be as successful as possible.

But Sharp has a special relationship with a polar explorer who never set foot in Antarctica. According to Mike Sharp, it was all thanks to Fridtjof Nansen that Sharp’s family came to England. Nansen took the initiative to an identification certificate for stateless refugees. Starting 1922, the “Nansen passport” made it possible for refugees to travel without losing the right to return to their original country of asylum. These passports were issued to 450 000 people up until 1939: the document was absolutely essential for many Russian, Armenian, Syrian and Turkish refugees.

Sharp doesn’t know very much about his grandmother’s dramatic history, but he knows that she fled from the Russian revolution as a small girl. He knows his family comes from St Petersburg, but not what paths they took nor when they arrived in England, and he doesn’t know how long they might have lived as refugees within the former Russian Empire. But the fact that they came to England under the protection of Nansen passports has become an important part of his family’s history.

There can be no doubt that Nansen left many deep imprints.