German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s attempt to explain her country’s asylum policy to a young Palestinian whose family is close to deportation reduced the girl to tears.
The girl, identified in news reports as Reem, tells Merkel in fluent German she wants to go to university. But, she says, her family, who came to Germany four years ago from a refugee camp in Lebanon, lives in fear of deportation.
“It’s really unpleasant to watch others enjoy their life and not be able to enjoy it oneself,” Reem tells Merkel at the community event in Rostock, Germany, today.
It’s unclear how old the girl is: Some news sources say she is around 10, and others call her a teenager.
Merkel replies: “Politics is sometimes hard. As you are standing here in front of me, of course you are an extremely nice person, but you also know that in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon there are thousands and thousands. If we now say, ‘You can all come.’ … We just can’t manage that.”
She adds: “It cannot take that long until things are decided. But some will have to go back.”
The reply reduces Reem to tears, and Merkel walks over to pat her back. The chancellor then says: “I know it’s a difficult situation. That’s why I want to comfort her because we don’t want to bring all of you into such situations and because you are having a difficult time, because you’ve shown for a lot of other people what type of situation you can end up in.”
Merkel’s words have drawn criticism — and some praise — but the awkwardness of the encounter has spurred a trending hashtag on twitter, #merkelstreichelt (merkelstrokes).
“The mistakes in the government’s refugee policies can’t be patted away,” Katrin Goering-Eckardt of the opposition Green party tweeted.
But Felix Seibert-Daiker, who moderated the forum, told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that Merkel’s reaction was humane.
“Of course, we all would have liked Merkel to take Reem in her arms and say, ‘You can stay,’ but that is not the situation,” he said, according to Reuters.
Germany is among the top destinations for refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. The Associated Press reports that figures released this week showed 179,037 asylum applications were filed in the first six months of 2015 — more than twice as many as in the same period last year.