The former Federal Chancellor of Germany, who welcomed more than 1.2 million refugees in 2015 and 2016, accepted the prestigious award at a ceremony in Geneva on Monday.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi presents the former Federal Chancellor of Germany, Dr. Angela Merkel, with the 2022 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award in Geneva, Switzerland. © UNHCR/Mark Henley
“In reality, people’s lives happen locally, in cities and communities,” she told the audience. “And that is why I would like to thank the local politicians and employees in the municipalities in particular, as well as the many volunteers in organisations or those who provide individual assistance.”
Under the former Chancellor’s leadership, Germany welcomed more than 1.2 million refugees and asylum-seekers at the height of the conflict in Syria and amid violence elsewhere, overseeing efforts to integrate them into society. She also ensured Germany’s role as a reliable humanitarian partner engaged in refugee operations around the world.
In her acceptance speech, Dr. Merkel acknowledged the huge efforts made by other countries such as Türkiye, Lebanon and Jordan, which continue to host large numbers of Syrian refugees, many of whom wanted to remain close to their home country.
“My wish … is that the good examples will set a precedent, and that even more people will feel committed to protecting other people,” she said. “Because as we know, no one leaves their home lightly.”
Presenting the award to Dr. Merkel, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told the former Chancellor: “You demonstrated indeed vision, courage and fortitude. And you demonstrated a moral compass which not only guided your work and the actions of your country, but it showed the way for so many of us in Europe and in the world.”
Also honoured during the ceremony in Geneva’s Haute école d’art et de design (HEAD) were the four regional winners for 2022. For Africa, the leader of the Mbera Fire Brigade in Mauritania, Ahmedou Ag Albohary, accepted the award in recognition of the refugee volunteers’ bravery in fighting bushfires and protecting the local environment.
Gynaecologist Dr. Nagham Hasan – regional winner for the Middle East and North Africa – was honoured for her work caring for Yazidi survivors of ISIS captivity in northern Iraq. Americas winner Vicenta González received an award for her support to Nicaraguan asylum-seekers and other survivors of domestic abuse in Costa Rica. For Asia and the Pacific, Naw Bway Khu accepted the prize on behalf of Meikswe Myanmar, a humanitarian organization she set up to help internally displaced people and others in need.
Dr. Merkel thanked each of the regional winners for their contributions and said she would donate the US$150,000 prize money to their organizations to help support their work.
The awards ceremony was held in person for the first time in three years following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was overseen by Master of Ceremonies Nelufar Hedayat, who first moved to Britain as a refugee from Afghanistan before forging a career as an award-winning journalist and presenter.
Performers at the event included Tusse, Sweden’s 2021 Eurovision Song Contest Grand finalist and a former Congolese refugee, as well as vocalist Manal Samaan, a Syrian refugee now living in Switzerland.
UNHCR’s longest-serving Goodwill Ambassador, classical and jazz singer Barbara Hendricks, delivered a keynote address in which she encouraged all people to open their hearts and see everyone in need “as members of our family of humanity.”
“I have drawn encouragement and humility from the many refugees whom I’ve met,” Hendricks said. “They faced nearly insurmountable difficulties and the dangers of refugee life with incredible dignity and courage. They cannot and do not give up, so neither can I.”
Since 1954, the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award has honoured individuals, groups or organizations committed to working for refugees or people who have been internally displaced. The award is named for Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian explorer and diplomat who served as the League of Nation’s first High Commissioner for Refugees from 1921 until his death in 1930. Nansen won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his work on behalf of those who were displaced during the First World War and other conflicts.