In the wake of the economic crisis in Greece, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German government have been criticized for their tough stance and apparent lack of sympathy. Now, a video that has gone viral in Germany is only going to make things more difficult for Merkel.
During a videotaped debate in a high school, the German leader was confronted with a young Palestinian refugee called Reem speaking in flawless German. The girl told the chancellor that she and her family have lived in Germany for about four years now but might face deportation at any time.
"My father (...) used to work as a welder," Reem said. "But since we still don't have an Arbeitserlaubnis [a license for foreigner to work], he is unemployed. I can't find an answer to the question why he's still unable to work."
After Merkel told the girl that "politics is sometimes tough," the girl started crying. Merkel then approached Reem and stroked her back, trying to comfort her. The chancellor told her that she "had done a great job" by talking about her experience. Merkel refrained from talking about her specific case and continued to speak about refugees in general and the need to limit their numbers in Europe.
Many Germans found the response heartless. After the video was broadcast by the local ARD affiliate NDR, some began using the hashtag #merkelstreichelt ("Merkel strokes") to express discontent with Merkel's political stance toward refugees.
Some reacted with anger, saying that they were overwhelmed by fury toward the chancellor, while others used the incident to make jokes. One Twitter user posted a picture of Merkel stroking other displaced children with the comment: "Refugee problem solved."
The same user suggested using that strategy to solve the Greek crisis — by simply stroking Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras:
Another user wrote that he perceived Merkel as "being confronted with the consequences of her political actions for the first time."
Katrin Goering-Eckardt, a politician with the opposition Green Party, tweeted that “the mistakes in the government’s refugee policies can’t be patted away.”
In 2013 and 2014, more asylum claims were submitted in Germany than in any other country, leading to a shortage of available housing to accommodate the refugees. To absorb the growing number of asylum seekers, city representatives have turned to such unusual alternatives as empty warehouses, military barracks and tents. Officials have also had to deal with protests by locals opposed to the mass accommodation, as WorldViews reported earlier.
Especially in the east of Germany, locals have protested against the growing numbers of refugees in their country. In some cities, the outrage has also turned violent: In Meißen and Tröglitz, uninhabited refugee housing centers were recently destroyed in suspected arson attacks.
Especially Angela Merkel's CDU party has struggled to find a balance between respecting its Christian values and not offending the many conservative voters opposed to the refugee influx. Consequently, Merkel promised to speed up the asylum application process -- a decision which might lead to the deportation of Reem and her family, as well as many others.
The government handling of the Wednesday incident may have made the backlash worse. At first, a Web site run by the government stated that the young girl "cried out of agitation," a wording that appeared to refer to the debate being videotaped. That phrasing was changed later Thursday when criticism over the government's interpretation of the events grew.
Here is a translation of part of the conversation between Merkel and the young refugee, based on a transcript provided by the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Some answers were shortened. You can watch the full German video here.
Reem: I also have goals, just like everyone else.
Merkel: (repeats) just like everyone else...
Reem: I would like to study. That is really my wish and goal, and it is really unpleasant to see that others are able to enjoy their lives, whereas I can't do the same.
Merkel: Hmm. I understand this situation, but at the same time I have to ... This is the hard thing about politics... The way you're standing in front of me, you seem like an incredibly sympathetic person, but you know that there are thousands and thousands of people in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. If we say, you can all come, then we would not be able to cope with this. We are in an inner conflict, and the only thing we can say is the following: It must not take too long to decide [who can stay]. Some will have to go back.
[Break in the video]
[The girl is crying]
Merkel: You've done a great job.
Anchor: Miss Chancellor, I don't think it comes down to doing a great job in this case, but rather to a very stressful situation.
[Anchor is being interrupted by Merkel.]
Merkel: I know that this is a very stressful situation, and that's why I want to stroke her, because we don't want to force you into these situations and because you're having a tough time. And you've done such a great job in describing for others what can happen.
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