Time magazine recently named German Chancellor Angela Merkel its 2015 Person of the Year. Meanwhile, her country hit a milestone that illustrates why she earned the honor.
This week, Germany announced that it has accepted more than 1 million refugees inside its borders in 2015.
For perspective, Germany has welcomed more refugees in 2015 than the United States has in the last 10 years.
Germany, a country of 80 million people, allowed in 1 million refugees this year alone. The United States, a country of 300 million, allows in roughly 70,000 refugees every year. You could say that's either rather embarrassing for the U.S., or a major statement of compassion for Germany. Perhaps it's both.
"Germany is doing what is morally and legally obliged [to do for refugees]. Not more, and not less," Merkel has said. And through her actions, she's stood by that sentiment, for sure.
Merkel's ability to see refugees as real people in need of assistance, and not as a scary monolithic group of foreign invaders, has put Germany at the front of the refugee crisis.Some say her open-arms approach came as a change of heart after she encountered a young Palestinian refugee during a televised event back in July.
Whatever the case, it hasn't come without controversy.
Merkel's ability to see refugees as real people in need of assistance, and not as a scary monolithic group of foreign invaders, has put Germany at the front of the refugee crisis.
From fellow politicians and officials to the media to the German people, her efforts have seen an increasing amount of backlash stemming from concerns about cities that may not have the resources to handle the increased number of incoming refugees.
Merkel understands the concerns but doesn't see turning her back on refugees as the answer either. Besides, she's used to being the first to do something.
"It's no exaggeration to see this task as a historic test for Europe," she said during a Brussels summit on the crisis, adding that to "slam the door ... is an illusion in the internet age of the 21st century."
Adding an additional million people to a country of only 80 million in such a short amount of time isn't easy.
Perhaps the best analogy is this: It's kind of like when a small gathering of friends turns into an enormous house party. It's all a bit unexpected, but you still want everyone to get along and not break anything.
Merkel's open-door policy has stood strong despite increasing criticism, and Germany is doing its best to keep its refugee situation under control and ensure all the partygoers are happy and have enough to eat and drink and a place to crash at the end of the night. (OK, this party analogy may have gotten away from me.)
One way Germany is trying to do this is through a new plan to issue ID cards to all asylum-seekers to help store and centralize the info of who is coming in and what their asylum status is. It'll be interesting to see how the ID program turns out when it rolls out in February, but the plan is proof that Germany isn't afraid to figure out solutions to the influx of refugees as it goes — rather than pausing all incoming refugees until it can determine a solution (as some presidential candidates have suggested the United States should do).
As people continue to flee violence in Syria and other countries every day, the need for shelter, safety, and acceptance elsewhere is desperately needed — and Merkel, who has been chancellor since 2005, has stepped up to provide it. Even through the resistance, she's calling on other countries to do the same.
Merkel being declared Time's Person of the Year is big in another way too: It's the first time in 29 years that a woman has held the title.
While Merkel has been a huge voice in the refugee crisis, she's done a lot more than just that over the past 10 years. From her leadership role in the Greek debt crisis, to negotiating cease-fire deals with Russia, to recently joining the fight against ISIS, she's undoubtedly transformed German politics.
Chancellor Merkel is putting people over politics and standing up for what's right, no matter what. That's a surprisingly rare quality in many public leaders, and her strength and compassion are commendable.
Whether you support her leadership or not, it's no wonder she's considered by many as the most powerful woman in the world.