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2015 Germany: Angela Merkel's transforming encounter with a young refugee.

Angela Merkel's transforming encounter with a young refugee

We should all learn from the Germans how to treat refugees, - Tom Negev, Israeli historian and son of German Holocaust survivors.

A brief life transforming excerpt from The Chancellor - The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel:

[start]. In 2015 Angela Merkel's decision to address Europe's growing refugee crisis transformed Germany into the moral centre of the world.

With nations around the world increasingly succumbing to xenophobia Merkel turned Germany into an immigrant nation with a breathtakingly bold decision, one out of character for the leader known for caution, that would seal her own legacy.

The 14 year old girl spoke careful German, inflected with a trace of her Lebanese/Palestinian origins and by a slight tremble. Her nervousness was understandable, she was addressing the Chancellor of Germany.

I don't know what my future looks like, it would be horrible to be uprooted again. We are happy here, I have goals, I would like to go to university here.

It was July 15, 2015 and Merkel was holding a routine Town hall meeting near her home district in north eastern Germany. There was nothing particularly unusual about the setting, the cameras or the bright, carefully selected girl with the microphone. Politicians do hundreds of these meetings with constituents and the Chancellor was on automatic pilot.

Politics is a tough business, she told the girl, somewhat impatiently, there are thousands of people who have come here and those who are not fleeing wars simply must leave Germany. If we say everyone can come we simply will not be able to manage.

The girl began to weep and suddenly everything changed. The Chancellor breathed a single unplanned word into her microphone, Gott, (God). Her lips pressed tightly, her eyes softening with emotion, Merkel took a step towards the girl.

... Reaching out with one hand to stroke Reem's back she mumbled, Oh come come, you seem like such a nice girl and you have done very well today. It was hard to tell who was more moved, the 14 year old refugee or the 61 year old leader of Europe.

There had been a dramatic spike in refugees arriving in Germany in recent years. From 77,000 in 2012 to 475,000 in 2015. The Human Flood had begun in earnest in 2014 when Syrians and Sub-Saharan Africans fleeing wars and collapsing countries began transforming tiny tourist destinations on the Agean sea into overflowing refugee camps.

Rumours of impending cutbacks in the UN's World Food Programme - life saving aid to refugee camps, also helped swell the growing human tide towards Europe.

Western European leaders, who generally did not see this as their problem, averted their gaze or worse, scorned the refugees.

British Prime Minister David Cameron called them, The Swarm, while populist prime minister Viktor Orbán put up bill boards warning refugees, "you will not take our jobs."

Turkey offered temporary shelter but without work permits settling there was not a solution for people and hopes for a quick return to homelands were evaporating.

Those who survived the perilous journey from Syria to Turkey to Greece and across the Balkans, many with children hoisted on their father's shoulders and nursing infants in their mother's arms, now faced the least friendly country yet.

Though a member of the EU, Hungary openly flattered the unions with vaguely stated humanitarian basic values towards those in need.

During the summer of 2015, Orbán ordered barbed wire unspooled along Hungary's border with Serbia. Cameras caught Hungarian border guards brandishing rifles to block men, women and children from squeezing under it.

Nothing justiifies violence against those who seek asylum, said Merkel, horrified by the images of armed guards herding exhausted refugees into cage like containers alongside the Hungarian / Serbian border.

Following Merkel's emotional encounter with Reem the Chancellor kept thinking about the young refugee. She twice invited the girl to Berlin where Reem told Merkel about her life in the last four years and how the German city felt like home.

My friends, my room and my doctors, are all here, she told Merkel, she could finally get treatment for her cerebral palsy. The meeting was poignant for both the young girl and the Chancellor. Reem felt for her, commenting later that Merkel was as helpless as we were. [end]

Photos of refugees trapped in devastating circumstances, where they could not settle, receive help, or move on alongside a number of fateful tragedies, impacted Merkel.

Former regulations relating to the arrival and processing of refugees had been broken by the sheer numbers of people arriving.

Solutions were needed.

[start] In late August 2015, Merkel announced, without warning, a change of policy.

Germany will not turn away refugees, she said, defying the EU regulation and her usual caution.

If Europe fails on the question of refugees then it won't be the Europe we wished for. She continued, calling on the 26 other EU Members to offer asylum to greater numbers of refugees, each according to its capacity.

I do not want to get into a competition in Europe of who can treat these people the worse, she announced

As the number of people crossing the Mediterranean in rickety vessels or trekking across the borders towards Germany grew, the burden, she made plain, was not on the refugees seeking help, but on us.

No other leader in Europe, or elsewhere, spoke with such moral clarity about the West's obligation towards the casualties of its neverending wars. [end].

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