BERLIN (AFP, REUTERS) - A teenage Palestinian asylum seeker who burst into tears in front of Chancellor Angela Merkel during a televised debate will be allowed to stay in Germany, officials said Friday.
Merkel’s encounter with the teenager named Reem – who speaks perfect German – has gone viral.
The debate entitled "Good Life in Germany" took place in the northern city of Rostock.
“I don’t know the personal situation of this young girl but she speaks fluent German and has visibly lived here for a long time,” Integration Minister Aydan Ozoguz said, according to the website of Spiegel weekly.
“This is exactly why we changed the law so that well-integrated youths” can have a new residency permit through a new immigration law that came into force in August, Ozoguz said.
The mayor of Rostock’s spokesman told the daily Tagesspiegel that he had no intention of sending Reem and her family back.
During the discussion, Reem told Merkel in perfect German that she and her family, who arrived in Rostock from a Lebanese refugee camp four years ago, faced deportation.
“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,” she said.
Merkel had responded to Reem by saying she understood, but that “politics is sometimes hard”.
At that point Reem cried.
Looking surprised, Merkel walked up to her and said: "Ah, you did a great job."
The moderator of the discussion intervened to say the young woman was crying more because of her difficult situation than over whether she had done a good job in presenting her views.
Merkel retorted: "I know ... Still, I want to stroke her."
She then stroked Reem on the back.
Tweets mocked Merkel, accusing her of looking clumsy and lacking empathy.
"With the chancellor in the zoo," tweeted Torsten Gaitzsch.
"#merkelstrokes with the cold hand of an ice queen" wrote Martina Wilczyniski.
Felix Seibert-Daiker, who moderated the forum, told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that Merkel had reacted in a humane manner.
"Of course, we all would have liked Merkel to take Reem in her arms and say 'you can stay' but that is not the situation."
He said she respected her attempt to explain the political situation to a child.
"Many colleagues would have talked around it."
Immigration has shot up the political agenda due to mounting fears among Germans about how to cope with a flood of asylum seekers, especially from the Middle East and Africa and many of Merkel's conservatives want her to take a harder line.
Reflecting mounting resentment among Germans, the number of attacks on refugees is rising.
So far this year, there have been 150 such attacks, already nearly as many as in the whole of last year.
President Joachim Gauck this month warned that xenophobic attitudes are taking root.
Germany took in 200,000 asylum seekers last year and expects as many as 450,000 this year.