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Merkel wins award for Germany's open door policy to refugees

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By Chris Harris with AP, AFP
In this Sept. 9, 2015 file photo German chancellor Angela Merkel poses for a selfie with a refugee in a facility for arriving refugees in Berlin.
In this Sept. 9, 2015 file photo German chancellor Angela Merkel poses for a selfie with a refugee in a facility for arriving refugees in Berlin.   -   Copyright  Credit: AP Photo   -  

Germany's former chancellor Angela Merkel has been hailed for her "great moral and political courage" in supporting asylum seekers.

The 68-year-old received the praise as she was awarded the Nansen Prize from the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) on Tuesday.

During Merkel's tenure, Germany welcomed more than 1.2 million refugees and asylum seekers at the height of the 2015-16 migrant crisis.

At the time, Merkel said the influx was "a test for our European values ​​as rarely before", pointing to "a humanitarian imperative".

Commenting on the award, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi praised Merkel's determination to uphold human rights and humanitarian principles.

"By helping more than one million refugees to survive and rebuild, Angela Merkel has shown great moral and political courage," he said. "It was real leadership calling on the compassion of all of us, standing firm against those who preached fear and discrimination. She showed what can be achieved when politicians follow the right course and work to find solutions to challenges rather than simply shifting the responsibility to others."

Merkel’s decision to let in so many migrants boosted the far-right Alternative for Germany party and resulted in protests by a vocal minority. 

She was also blasted by some governments for being too friendly to refugees when some European Union partner states were closing borders to refugees and asylum-seekers.

The Nansen Prize, awarded annually, was created in 1954 in honour of the first UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the explorer Norwegian arctic and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930), to reward outstanding achievements in humanitarianism.

Merkel will receive her award -- which comes with a €151,000 prize -- during a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland on 10 October.