"We can do it" — Merkel famously told Germany when she decided to accept over a million refugees  | Photo: Stefan Wermuth/ASSOCIATED PRESS/picture alliance
"We can do it" — Merkel famously told Germany when she decided to accept over a million refugees | Photo: Stefan Wermuth/ASSOCIATED PRESS/picture alliance

Merkel dedicated her award to the thousands of people who volunteered to welcome refugees in 2015 when Germany took in over one million people fleeing war, many from Syria.

The former chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, was awarded the Nansen Refugee Award from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Geneva on Monday.

Merkel was honored for the role she played in 2015 and 2016 when she opened Germany's borders to more than 1.2 million refugees fleeing from war in Syria, and elsewhere.

The former conservative chancellor thanked the many people across Germany who volunteered to help welcome and organize the arrival of refugees.

"From my point of view, this honor therefore goes above all to the countless people who pitched in at the time, it is thanks to them that we managed the situation, that we made it," Merkel said in her acceptance speech.

Merkel's legacy

At the ceremony, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi said, "By helping more than one million refugees to survive and rebuild, Angela Merkel displayed great moral and political courage."

Merkel's decision to welcome refugees into Germany met with resistance and opposition at the time, especially from her own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

In particular, she clashed with the CSU leader Horst Seehofer who would also serve as her interior minister and who pushed for deportations to Afghanistan even as the Taliban advanced on Kabul.

"No refugees should be sent back to their countries in which they face persecution," Merkel said on Monday, insisting that "refugee rights must be respected."

What did Merkel do with the prize?

The former chancellor — who decided to step down at last year's election after 16 years in power — was given a medal and prize money of $150,000 (€154,500) which she requested be shared among the four regional winners of the prize.

They included an Iraqi gynaecologist who supports Yazidi women who survived atrocities at the hands of the so-called Islamic State group, a woman from Costa Rica who set up a cooperative to support refugees, a refugee-run firefighting crew in Mauritania and a humanitarian group in Myanmar.

They all also received $50,000 in award money.

The Nansen Award has been given out every year since 1954 in honor of the UNHCR's first commissioner, Norwegian Arctic explorer and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen.

ab/ar (dpa, AFP)

First published: October 10, 2022

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