Former German chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday won the United Nations refugee agency’s prestigious Nansen Award, receiving praise for her determination to protect asylum seekers while in office.
Pointing to the more than 1.2 million refugees and asylum seekers welcomed by Germany in 2015 and 2016, at the height of migrant crisis sparked especially by the war in Syria, the UNHCR selection committee hailed Merkel’s “leadership, courage and compassion.”
At the time, the woman who lead the German government for 16 years said the situation “put our European values to the test as seldom before. It was no more and no less than a humanitarian imperative.”
UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi hailed Merkel’s determination to protect asylum seekers and to stand up for human rights, humanitarian principles and international law.
“By helping more than a million refugees to survive and rebuild, Angela Merkel displayed great moral and political courage,” he said in a statement.
“It was true leadership, appealing to our common humanity, standing firm against those who preached fear and discrimination,” he said.
“She showed what can be achieved when politicians take the right course of action and work to find solutions to the world’s challenges rather than simply shift responsibility to others.”
The selection committee highlighted that in addition to protecting people forced to flee war, Merkel was the driving force behind Germany’s collective efforts to receive them and help them integrate into society.
The Nansen Award, awarded annually, was created in 1954 in honour of the first UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Norwegian Arctic explorer and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen, to mark outstanding work on behalf of refugees.
Merkel will receive her award and the $150,000 in prize money at a ceremony in Geneva on October 10, where four regional winners will also be honoured.