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Merkel wins UN refugee award for welcoming Syrians

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GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday it will award its highest award to former German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her efforts to welcome more than 1 million refugees, mostly from Syria, into Germany, despite some criticism both at home and abroad.

Matthew Saltmarsh, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said Merkel had been selected as the latest winner of the Nansen Prize, which is awarded annually by the Geneva-based UN agency.

“Under the leadership of then Federal Chancellor Merkel, Germany received more than 1.2 million refugees and asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016, which, as you may remember, was the height of the conflict in Syria, and there was deadly violence in other parts. the world,” Saltmarsh told reporters. “Dr. Merkel helped highlight the plight of refugees globally.”

Merkel’s decision to let in so many immigrants boosted the far-right Alternative for Germany party and sparked protests from a vocal minority. Some governments also criticized it for being too refugee-friendly, when some European Union partner states were closing borders to refugees and asylum seekers.

The award includes a prize of $150,000. Merkel is expected to travel to Geneva next Monday to receive the award, Saltmarsh said. Four regional winners were also announced.

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UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award honors individuals, groups or organizations that go “beyond the call of duty” to protect refugees, other displaced people and stateless people, the agency says.

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 United Nations.

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The recipient in 2021 was the Jeel Albena Association for Humanitarian Development in Yemen, for its support of displaced Yemenis.

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