A Palestinian refugee who burst into tears after being told by Angela Merkel that "politics is sometimes hard" has defended the German chancellor. Merkel has been accused of heartlessness.
The girl, 14-year-old Reem Sahwil, told German public-service broadcaster ARD on Friday that Merkel's response to her comments about her family's fears of deportation from Germany was "fair enough."
"She listened, and she gave her opinion, and I think that is fair enough," she said.
Merkel has come under criticism, particularly on social media, for having told Reem at a meeting with schoolchildren in the northern city of Rostock that "politics is sometimes hard" and that Germany would not cope with an unchecked flood of Palestinian refugees.
Merkel's attempts to console the girl when she later started to cry have also been denounced in some quarters as an inadequate response, with the incident refueling debate over Germany's asylum policy.
Some 400,000 people are expected to apply for asylum in Germany this year amid a growing wave of refugees from countries including Syria, Afghanistan, the Palestinian Territories and Kosovo.
'I also have goals'
Reem, who has lived in Germany for four years, was born in the Lebanese village of Ba'albeck to Palestinian parents. In 2010, she came to Germany to undergo a major operation to treat cerebral palsy, which she has suffered from since birth, and then went back to Lebanon.
Following another operation in Düsseldorf, she and her family moved to Sweden for half a year and requested asylum there. The family, however, was sent back to Germany since under EU rules the first country where a person enters the EU must process asylum applications.
Reem has lived with her family in Rostock since 2011 and attends the Paul-Friedrich Scheel School in the city. Her father had once worked as a welder, but without a residence permit, which he does not have as an applicant for asylum, he cannot be employed. Their asylum application has not yet been decided, Reem said.
"I also have goals just like everyone else," she said in the conversation with the chancellor and 28 other pupils. "I want to study, that's my desire. But it's really unpleasant to watch how others can enjoy life, while I can't do the same myself."
Explaining why she was happy to be living in Germany, Reem said she had experienced enough war and uncertainty in her life.
"It feels much safer here," she told German public broadcaster ARD on Friday. "The fear that once had is still inside me, but as long as I'm here it is getting better."
The 14-year-old has two younger siblings and many hobbies such as writing stories, meeting friends, baking and learning languages, she told German public children's TV channel KIKA. She speaks Arabic, English, German, some Swedish and said she wants to learn French.
"My greatest wish is to work as a teacher or as an adult interpreter," she told KIKA.
During Wednesday evening's discussion Reem told Merkel in fluent German that her family had a temporary stay on deportation back to Lebanon, but no one could tell them how long it would last.
"I am here now, but I don't know what my future looks like, because I don't know if I can really stay," she said.