Angela Merkel came under criticism on Thursday for her awkward treatment of a young refugee brought to tears by the German chancellor’s comments on asylum.
A video of the encounter Wednesday afternoon at a community event in Rostock showed the Palestinian teenager telling Merkel that her family had been waiting four years to get permanent leave to remain in Germany.
“It’s really unpleasant to watch others enjoy their life and not be able to enjoy it oneself,” the girl told Merkel, saying she wanted to go to university.
In response, Merkel told her “sometimes politics is hard” and Germany can’t accommodate everybody who wants to come. Since the teen’s family had previously lived in Lebanon, a country Germany considers safe for refugees, their chances of being allowed to stay aren’t certain.
As Merkel outlined her government’s desire to speed up asylum decisions so all applicants receive a verdict within a year, the teen burst into tears. After a brief hesitation, Merkel walked over to comfort her.
“I know it’s a difficult situation, but I still want to give her a pat,” the chancellor said.
Merkel’s office said the chancellor didn’t speak to the girl, identified only as Reem, after the event.
But Merkel’s blunt words about swiftly deporting those whose asylum applications are denied drew harsh criticism.
“The mistakes in the government’s refugee policies can’t be patted away,” tweeted Katrin Goering-Eckardt of the opposition Green party.
Others said Merkel had reacted compassionately and it was her job to explain government policy on asylum.
Germany has seen a sharp rise in refugee numbers in recent years. Figures released this week showed that 179,037 asylum applications were filed in the first six months of 2015, more than twice as many as the same period last year.