Even as recently arrived refugees in her country are accused of sexual attacks, and as opposition groups decry the flood of refugees, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is being honored for her leadership.
Merkel, who was also named Time’s Person of the Year in 2015, is set to receive the International Four Freedoms Medal during a ceremony in April. The Dutch-based Roosevelt Foundation praised her “great moral leadership” in Germany when making the announcement. The organization specifically highlighted Merkel’s roles in the European financial and refugee crises.
“She shows great moral leadership as Chancellor of all Germans regardless of faith and ethnicity in the face of the start of the anti-Islam movement,” according to a statement announcing the honor. “In the current migrant and refugee crises Merkel is committed to Europe’s humanitarian duty to protect those fleeing war and conflict in the Middle East, Africa and Asia and to tackle the causes of the crisis by working for peace in Syria and the region.”
Estimates for how many refugees entered Germany in 2015 range from 800,000 to nearly 1.5 million. The massive influx was initially treated with suspicion by some on the far right, but that sentiment has grown more pervasive among Germans as reported sexual assaults made headlines.
On New Year’s Eve alone, hundreds of women were reportedly assaulted in Cologne by as many as 1,000 men, some of whom allegedly identified themselves as asylum seekers.
“You have to treat me kindly. Mrs. Merkel invited me,” one of the attackers is alleged to have said.
Since the Cologne episode, more instances of sexual assault in Germany and throughout Europe have been reported.
Germany is also thought to have disrupted a terror attack on New Year’s Eve, when police cleared train stations and publicly warned of a real and imminent threat. No attack ever occurred.
Previous winners of the International Four Freedoms Medal include U.S. Presidents Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy, South African leader Nelson Mandela and former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.