German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a Palestinian girl cry on national television when she told her that Germany has to turn away some refugees who apply for asylum. Here's the video, with subtitles in English:
It was a rare moment in which a country's leader came face to face with the human consequences of policy. Merkel's reaction to the girl, which many viewers saw as condescending, provoked criticism online.
Posts were tagged #merkelstreichelt ("Merkel strokes", roughly translated):
There were also a few people defending Merkel on Twitter:
The Palestinian girl, Reem, told Merkel, “I have goals like anyone else. I want to study like them … it’s very unpleasant to see how others can enjoy life, and I can’t myself.”
“I understand … but politics is sometimes hard," Merkel said. "You’re right in front of me now and you’re an extremely sympathetic person. But you also know in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon are thousands and thousands and if we were to say 'you can all come' and 'you can all come from Africa,' and 'you can all come,' we just can't manage that."”
In 2014, Germany had 173,100 applications for asylum. This was 58% more than the year before, taking the total number of asylum seekers to around 226,000. In addition to that, another 216,973 people were living in Germany as accepted refugees, according to the UNHCR.
This past year, the German government has debated reducing the number of refugees taken in because, the Guardian reports, towns find it challenging to support the increasing numbers of asylum seekers.
In total, the U.N. reported that at the end of last year there were 14.4 million asylum seekers globally, 23% more than the year before. That means the world is approaching the highest recorded number of refugees–14.9 million in 1995. Conflicts in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa largely responsible for uprooting many people.
The UN is calling on wealthier nations like the U.S., Germany, and Australia to take in more refugees because of the crisis in Syria, where more than 4 million have been displaced since the conflict began four years ago. But while the U.S. has pledged to admit somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 Syrians by October, refugee advocates say this is nowhere near enough given the scale of the crisis, the New York Times reports.
Australia's treatment of refugees has been dismal, with the government introducing policies that mean asylum seekers don't even make it onto Australian shores to be processed, but are instead sent to camps on offshore islands owned by Malaysia, where conditions often violate basic human rights standards.
In Germany, refugees are temporarily settled in the community, not in camps, to await the decision of whether or not they will be allowed to stay. In Reem's case, her family has been in Germany for four years waiting for their asylum request to be processed. She now speaks fluent German and is enrolled at a local school in Rostock, in the north of the country.