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ANGELA MERKEL

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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ANGELA MERKEL

What do Germans think of Merkel a year after her departure?

Angela Merkel left the German chancellery on December 8th, 2021 at the height of her global stature. Twelve months on, it is hard to find a more precipitous drop in popularity and prestige in modern European politics.

What do Germans think of Merkel a year after her departure?

The offices accorded to the former leader are in view of the Russian embassy, where since the Ukraine invasion in February Berliners regularly leave signs and flowers protesting the war.

Long called the world’s most powerful woman, Merkel these days has pulled back from the spotlight, working on her memoirs and enjoying the occasional television series, such as “The Crown”, which tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s turbulent decades on the throne.

But in many quarters the broad German support she once enjoyed as a staunch defender of Western liberal values has curdled.

“One year on, the world is in flames, Russia invaded Ukraine, gas and  petrol prices are through the roof and Germany fears the winter,” wrote Der Spiegel magazine’s Alexander Osang, a longtime Merkel confidant.

“Angela Merkel went from role model to culprit, from crisis-manager to crisis-causer.”

Invitation to Bucha

Germany’s first female chancellor has been accused of placating Russian President Vladimir Putin in the name of realpolitik, while deepening Germany’s energy dependence on Moscow — not least by backing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project even after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

READ ALSO: Merkel says no regrets over Germany’s Russia gas deals

Hedwig Richter, modern history professor at Munich’s Bundeswehr University, said Merkel‘s loss of standing had been “exceptional”, representing a generation of political failings.

“Amorality is not the same thing as realpolitik,” Richter told AFP.

“The governments of the last 16 years thought it was realistic to place values such as human rights and climate protection last in politics. But now reality is striking back.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has laid the blame at Merkel‘s feet, in particular for a decision at a 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest not to admit his country to the alliance.

In April, he offered her a barbed invitation to Bucha, the site of an alleged massacre of Ukrainian civilians, “to see what the policy of concessions to Russia has led to in 14 years”.

Looming energy shortages due to Russian retaliation for Western sanctions have also soured the mood against Merkel at home.

In the public debate, “Merkel was tied up with this war and certainly to blame for the missing gas”, said Nico Fried, who covered Merkel during all four of her terms, in Stern magazine.

“The question is what remains of Merkel after 16 years, whether her historical portrait is already fading before it was even really framed.”

‘Horribly neglected’

Just 23 percent of Germans would want Merkel back in power, according to a Civey institute poll in late November.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Are Germans questioning Merkel’s legacy?

In this file photo taken on November 10, 2021 then outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then German Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz attend a press conference to present the annual report of the German Council of Economic Experts (Wirtschaftsweise) in Berlin. (Photo by Kay Nietfeld / POOL / AFP)

Richter said Merkel had “great achievements” including allowing in more  than one million asylum seekers and standing as a beacon of “decency” and  “democratic duty” when strongmen like Putin and Donald Trump were on the march.

But she said two key miscalculations would cast a long shadow.

“Firstly, the inability of the (German) republic to defend itself. And because this is closely linked to the fossil-fuel dependence on Russia, it threw a spotlight on destruction of the planet,” she said.

“The Merkel governments horribly neglected both these issues.”

Merkel, 68, has mounted a tentative counter-offensive, arguing that she acted in good conscience given the facts on the ground at the time.

She said she tried to use Nord Stream 2 as a bargaining chip to ensure Putin respected the 2015 Minsk accords aimed at stopping the fighting in Ukraine.

Merkel told Fried she pledged to US President Joe Biden last year that if Russia invaded Ukraine, the pipeline deal would be scrapped — a threat her successor Olaf Scholz made good on days before the war began.

Osang noted the irony that “Putin of all people, whom she has known so well and long, with all his tricks, lies, bragging” had muddied her reputation.

One of Merkel‘s lessons from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that it was “economic, more than democratic, deprivation” that led to the communist system’s collapse.

Osang said this had coloured her approach to trade with China and energy deals with Russia.

She said Scholz’s billions in spending to help Germans facing high gas prices were now justified.

“Not everyone is in a position to freeze for Ukraine,” she said.

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