Angela Merkel Wins UNHCR Nansen Award for Protecting Syrian Refugees

Former German chancellor Angela Merkel has won the prestigious Nansen Award from the U.N. refugee agency, for providing a haven for more than 1.2 million refugees and asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution in Syria.

Angela Merkel welcomed the desperate people at the height of the Syrian conflict in 2015 and 2016, when other countries were turning their backs on them.

In announcing the award, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Merkel displayed great moral and political courage by helping more than a million refugees survive and rebuild their lives.

UNHCR spokesman Matthew Saltmarsh says Merkel has helped to highlight the plight of refugees globally. He says she has shown what can be achieved when politicians work to find solutions to challenging situations rather than shifting responsibility to others.

“As well as protecting people forced to flee war, persecution and human rights abuses, the former chancellor was the driving force behind Germany’s collective efforts to receive them and to help them integrate into their new homes through education and training programs, employment schemes, and labor market integration,” said Saltmarsh.

The award is named after Norwegian explorer and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen. It is given to an individual, group or organization that has gone above and beyond the call of duty to protect refugees.

The award selection committee also has honored four regional winners. They are an all-volunteer refugee firefighting group in Mauritania in West Africa; a refugee support cacao cooperative in Costa Rica in the Americas; humanitarian organization Meikse Myanmar that assists internally displaced people among others in Asia and the Pacific; and an Iraqi gynecologist who provides medical and psychological care to Yazidi girls and women in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Nansen award will be presented to Merkel and the four regional winners at a ceremony in Geneva October 10. For Merkel, the award carries a cash prize of $150,000. Each of the regional laureates will receive $50,000.

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