GENEVA (AFP) – Former German chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday won the United Nations (UN) 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”.
The UN refugee agency highlighted how she had called on her fellow Germans to reject divisive nationalism, urging them instead to be “compassionate and open-minded”.
“By helping more than a million refugees to survive and rebuild, Angela Merkel displayed great moral and political courage,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said in a statement, hailing her determination to stand up for human rights, humanitarian principles and international law.
“It was true leadership, appealing to our common humanity, standing firm against those who preached fear and discrimination,” he said.
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 annual Nansen Award 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.