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Angela Merkel receives UNESCO peace prize

A drummer stands in front of a banner depicting the face of former German chancellor Angela Merkel at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny peace prize in Yamoussoukro, on Feb 8, 2023   -  
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Angela Merkel

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel received Wednesday the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Unesco Peace Prize, during a ceremony in the Ivorian capital Yamoussoukro, rewarding in particular her action in the massive reception of refugees by Germany in 2015.

"The jury wanted to distinguish the courageous decision taken in 2015 to welcome more than a million refugees (...) when at the same time so many voices were calling to close Europe. You were, at that time, the vision of courage in politics," said Audrey Azoulay, the director general of Unesco, Wednesday at the award ceremony.

"Respecting, preserving, sharing human rights is the mission of all of us. We decided that it was necessary to respect these principles in our migration policy. This was only possible because many people rolled up their sleeves on the ground," Merkel said at the podium of the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Foundation, named after Ivory Coast's first president, who died in 1993.

In 2015 and 2016, Merkel, who led Germany for 16 years, had welcomed more than 1.2 million refugees and asylum seekers at the peak of the migrant crisis fueled in particular by the war in Syria.

"Notwithstanding the hostility of public opinion, you took the decision to open German borders to refugees fleeing conflict zones. You have reminded all world leaders of their duty of solidarity towards all human beings," said Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.

Some 2,000 people were invited to the awarding of this prize created in 1989 and which has rewarded in the past Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, Lula and François Hollande.

Former Ivorian presidents Henri Konan Bédié and Laurent Gbagbo, now in opposition, were also present alongside the current head of state.

This is their first joint public appearance since last July.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, the current chairman of the Economic Community of West African States and Guinea-Bissau head of state Umaro Sissoco Embalo, and the chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, were among the guests of honor at the ceremony.

The Congolese human rights activist, Julienne Lusenge, also received an honorary mention from the jury, chaired by her compatriot, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege, for her commitment to women