A heartbreaking interaction between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a young Palestinian has cast a sharp lens on the ongoing European refugee crisis and the often faceless victims of violent conflict.
During a televised event titled "Good Life in Germany," a teen named Reem told Merkel that her family had arrived in the country four years earlier from a Lebanese refugee camp, but now could be deported. "I have goals in life like everyone else. I want to go to university, that's a goal I want to achieve," Reem said. "It’s very unpleasant to see how others can enjoy life, and I can’t myself.”
Merkel, whose country is struggling with an avalanche of refugee applications, responded to the plea, saying "politics is hard sometimes" and there simply isn't room in Germany for everyone who wants to immigrate.
"There are thousands and thousands more in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. And if we say 'You can all come here, you can all come over from Africa,' we can't cope with that," Merkel said. She then rushed over to console the teen, who began crying when she heard the response.
"I know that this is a very wearing situation, but I just want to give her a hug now because we don't want to put you into such a situation," Merkel told a moderator during the broadcast. "Because this is hard for you, and because you have done a very good job of showing to many, many others how one can get into such a situation."
More refugees are seeking asylum in Germany than any other country, driven from their homes by violent domestic and international conflict, The New York Times reports. The country is expecting more than 400,000 immigration applications this year -- double the number from 2014 -- which has prompted a wave of xenophobic attacks against non-European migrants.
Shortly after the broadcast, the hashtag #Merkelstreichelt, which translates to Merkel strokes, was being used to criticize Merkel on Twitter for the way she simply offered condolences by patting the teen's back.
The leader has also faced other criticism for her response to the young woman's plea. But the response reflects a trying time in international relations, as many European countries are floundering to deal with what the United Nations has called “a tragedy of epic proportions."
“We’re reaching the limits of our capacity,” Eva Lohse, president of the German Association of Cities, said Thursday.