YAMOUSSOUKRO, Ivory Coast — Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel received a UNESCO peace prize Wednesday for her decision to welcome more than 1.2 million migrants to Germany despite resistance at home and among European partners.
Organizers said that Merkel showed political courage when Germany welcomed refugees in 2015-2016 who had fled conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege, president of the jury awarding the prize, praised Merkel for having opened the gates of Germany ”at the same time many other countries were overcome with fear.”
“You showed public opinion and decision-makers that we have not only to defend our own rights, but those of others in times of crisis, that each society needs more than ever to respect and protect human rights without any form of discrimination,” he said.
“We commend your humanity, your spirit of solidarity and your keen sense of ethics and your inspiring leadership,” he added.
In accepting the award, Merkel spoke of current refugee crises, particularly the war in Ukraine.
“We had thought that the time of war in Europe had passed,” Merkel said. “But since the 24th of February of last year, which is when Russia’s vicious aggression on Ukraine took place, we have come to the sad conclusion that that’s not the case. This has shaken Europe to its roots.”
The 68-year-old center-right politician, who led Germany for 16 years, has kept a relatively low profile since handing over to successor Olaf Scholz in December 2021.
Among a few other appearances, the one-time physicist accepted an award from the U.N. refugee agency and gave a speech honoring the former head of a national scientific academy in which she mentioned gut flora and antibiotic resistance. Her political memoirs are due to be published in 2024.
The Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize awarded to Merkel on Wednesday is named for Ivory Coast’s first president after independence from France in 1960. The award was presented to Merkel in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast’s capital and the hometown of the late Houphouët-Boigny.