Former German chancellor Angela Merkel wins UN refugee prize

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.

Angela Merkel, former German Chancellor, speaks at the ceremony marking the 1100th anniversary of the town of Goslar.
Angela Merkel, former German Chancellor, speaks at the ceremony marking the 1100th anniversary of the town of Goslar. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Swen Pförtner

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.”

READ ALSO: Five years on: How well did Germany handle the refugee crisis?

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 10th, where four regional winners will also be honoured.

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Merkel says no regrets over Germany’s Russia gas deals

Former chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday she did not regret taking on Russia as a major gas supplier for Germany during her 16 years in office.

Merkel says no regrets over Germany's Russia gas deals

Germany’s reliance on Russian energy has been exposed as an Achilles’ heel for Berlin in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

But when she was chancellor of Europe’s biggest economy, Merkel said Germany needed to ramp up its gas imports to fill an energy gap as it wound down its use of nuclear energy.

“It was also very rational and comprehensible to procure gas via pipelines from Russia, which was cheaper than LNG (liquefied natural gas) from elsewhere in the world like the US, Saudi Arabia or Qatar,” she told journalists in Lisbon.

“Even during the Cold War, Russia was a reliable energy supplier,” noted Merkel, who grew up behind the Iron Curtain in communist East Germany.

“And in that respect, I don’t regret my decisions at all. Rather, I believe that it was correct from the perspective at that time.”

She also rejected speculation that her willingness to do deals with President Vladimir Putin was a bid to change Russia using trade.

“I never believed that there’s such a thing as change through trade, but there was definitely a connection through trade,” she said.

READ ALSO: Former German chancellor Angela Merkel wins UN refugee prize

‘Respect’ for Zelensky

Merkel was in the Portuguese capital to serve as president of the jury of the Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity.

Russia’s “brutal assault” of Ukraine necessitated a change in how Germany handled Moscow, Merkel added — and “the new government is doing that”.

Germany’s former chancellor left the political stage in December 2021 after four consecutive terms in Germany’s top job as a highly respected world leader.

Barely two months later, her legacy was tarnished by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

She and her coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats have in particular come under fire over the energy deals that left Germany dependent on Russia for 55 percent of its gas supplies.

Her backing for the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was to double Russian gas deliveries to Germany had also long irked allies.

The project was shelved by current Chancellor Olaf Scholz in late February over Russia’s aggression.

Merkel has made only a handful of public appearances since retiring from politics, but she has sharply condemned Putin’s war.

She has also said she has the “highest respect” for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

READ ALSO: Former German chancellor Angela Merkel to release memoir