This entire story is taken from the Toronto Star. http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2015/12/30/the-14-year-old-girl-who-changed-germanys-mind-on-refugees.html By: Richard Hall GlobalPost, Published on Wed Dec 30 2015
14-year-old Reem Sahwil had to steel herself into telling her story to Angela Merkel on German TV. It was only after she did — and Merkel was roundly mocked for her callous response — that the German Chancellor dragged Europe into opening its arms to refugees
By: Richard Hall GlobalPost, Published on Wed Dec 30 2015
ROSTOCK, GERMANY—German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened Germany’s door to refugees fleeing war and, in the process, dragged Europe along with her.
“If Europe fails on the question of refugees, it won’t be the Europe we wished for,” she said at the end of August. Her speech was described as a “dramatic call to arms.”
But it wasn’t always this way. Little more than a month earlier, Merkel seemed far more indifferent. One incident in particular stood out.
In mid-July, Merkel took part in a televised question and answer session with local students in the northern town of Rostock. Sitting in the front row was 14-year-old Reem Sahwil, a Palestinian refugee who arrived in Germany four years ago from Lebanon with her family.
Facing the German chancellor from her seat, she spoke into a microphone in fluent German.
“I would like to go to university. It’s really very hard to watch how other people can enjoy life and you yourself can’t. I don’t know what my future will bring,” Reem said.
Months later at her home in an apartment block on the outskirts of Rostock, Reem recounts how she nearly didn’t speak up at all.
“My friends said I should talk, but I wasn’t sure,” she said. “I said, OK. Then I said no. Then I said OK again,” she laughed.
Reem’s family, facing deportation, had been waiting years to have their asylum application approved. As the cameras rolled, she told the German leader her sadness at not being able to plan for her future because of that uncertainty.
Merkel replied: “I understand what you are saying, nonetheless politics is hard sometimes. 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.”
At that, Reem quietly burst into tears. Merkel tried to comfort her by patting her shoulder as she wept. Critics called the response heartless — but Reem said she appreciated Merkel’s honesty.
“She is a very nice person,” the teenager said later. “I was just worried.”
The video of Reem’s encounter with Merkel went viral. The idea that Reem could be deported was hard to swallow for many: here was a bright young girl who had learned the language, excelled at school, and wanted to build a life in Germany. Refugee policy became the No. 1 topic of national debate.
Merkel took a beating in the press, not all of which was fair. Even in July, Germany had taken in more refugees than any other European country.
The meeting came just as the refugee influx into Europe was gathering pace. The next two weeks would prove decisive in shaping Germany’s policy toward refugees, and Europe’s too.
At the time, Germany was anticipating that asylum applications could reach 450,000 by the end of 2015. Just a few days after her discussion with Reem, Merkel was informed by her Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere that the true number would likely be closer to 800,000.
In Heidenau, a town near Dresden, far-right protests erupted against the opening of a refugee centre in the town. Then on Aug. 26, two refugee centres were attacked.
Merkel made a decision that would change everything. In the face of growing pressure from the right, increasing numbers of refugees arriving every day, and a divided Europe, Germany quietly suspended the deportation of Syrians under the Dublin Agreement — an EU treaty that stipulates asylum seekers must be returned to whichever European country they first entered. The decision effectively opened Germany’s doors to all Syrians.
During this turbulent time, Reem’s family still wasn’t sure if they’d be allowed to stay. The mayor of Rostock, Roland Methling, promised to re-examine Reem’s case “very carefully,” but the situation was precarious.
“It was very stressful,” she said. “It took up a lot of my time,” she added, time she would have preferred to spend studying.
Then things started to happen. Eventually, the family was awarded a residency permit.
Though it was Reem’s upsetting moment that catalyzed so much debate, her family considered themselves among the lucky ones. Many refugees desperate for a secure home are still looking for one.
She said she adored her school, and described it as “a second home.”