GENEVA – Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel received the U.N. refugee agency’s top award on Monday and gave credit to the people behind the welcome of more than 1 million refugees, mostly from Syria, after she opened Germany’s doors to them in 2015 and 2016.
Merkel said she would donate the $150,000 prize for the UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award to four other regional laureates who were also recognized at a Geneva ceremony.
Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, welcomed Merkel and presented her with the award after hailing “her leadership, her courage, her compassion, her positive, principled influence in Europe and in the world."
Merkel, who has not made many public appearances since leaving office in December, praised others for the welcome that she oversaw at a time when many Syrians were fleeing entrenched conflict at home — a conflict that continues today.
“From my point of view, this honor I am receiving here today goes above all to the countless people who pitched in then, and whom we have to thank for the fact that we coped with the situation,” she said.
She also praised Turkey, Syria’s northern neighbor, for taking in 3.8 million refugees, and pointed to the huge numbers of Syrian refugees taken in by Lebanon and Jordan relative to their populations.
“For Germany, the situation back then was a challenge, but we know that other countries were faced with even bigger tasks," Merkel said.
The UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award honors individuals, groups or organizations that go “above and beyond the call of duty” to protect refugees and other displaced and stateless people.
More than 60 laureates have received the award since it was founded in 1954 to celebrate Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian scientist, explorer and diplomat who was the first commissioner for refugees in the League of Nations — the predecessor of the the United Nations.
Past laureates including U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, opera star Luciano Pavarotti and the Doctors Without Borders humanitarian agency.
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