Europe

Refugee defends German leader's response to her tears

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Media captionAngela Merkel tried to comfort a young refugee, after explaining that not all migrants could stay

A 14-year-old Palestinian refugee has defended the way the German leader dealt with her after she burst into tears while talking about her future.

Angela Merkel was criticised for appearing to be unsympathetic when Reem Sahwil described what her life was like under threat of deportation.

She had told the teenager that not all migrants can stay in Germany.

Reem told the BBC: "[Mrs Merkel] reacted like a politician. At least she gave an honest opinion."

"In a way she was right. Migration is a difficult topic. She is not the person who can make that decision in front of all the cameras and the people," she added.

The conversation took place during a government-organised forum for young people, which was filmed and then broadcast.

In the video, Reem tells Mrs Merkel that her family had been waiting four years to gain permanent residency in Germany.

They were told they would have to return to a camp in Lebanon imminently - only to receive a last-minute temporary German residency permit, she said.

"I would like to go to university," said Reem, in fluent German.

"It's really very hard to watch how other people can enjoy life and you yourself can't. I don't know what my future will bring."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Germany expects 400,000 asylum applications this year

Mrs Merkel replied that "politics can be tough", adding: "You are an extremely nice person but you also know that there are thousands and thousands of people in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon."

Germany could not manage if all of them wanted to move there, she said.

When Reem began to cry, Mrs Merkel went over to her and began stroking her on the back and telling her she had done well to highlight the difficulties facing refugees in Germany.

In an interview with BBC Newshour, Reem said she felt genuine "empathy" from the chancellor.

"I just sensed even though she is politician she has feelings and she showed them," she added.

The teenager said she spoke with Mrs Merkel because she thought she might help her.

Within hours of the video being broadcast, the term #Merkelstreichelt (Merkel strokes) trended on Twitter.

Some social media users complained that Mrs Merkel had "petted" the girl and failed to show enough sensitivity, although others defended the leader's reaction.

Germany says it expects 400,000 asylum applications by the end of 2015 - more than double the amount it received in 2014.

The right-wing Pegida group has marched against what it calls the Islamisation of Germany, and the country's newest political party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), has called for tighter immigration control.

"The mistakes in the government's refugee policies can't be patted away," Katrin Goering-Eckardt, a Green Party MP, said after the broadcast went out.

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