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Meet Reem, the Palestinian girl who shook Germany

Dana Regev with AP, AFPJuly 17, 2015

Rarely do politicians have to come face-to-face with the problems of their people. Reem, a 14-year-old Palestinian girl seeking asylum in Germany, demonstrated to Chancellor Merkel the reality of a refugee's life.

Deutschland Bundeskanzlerin Merkel trifft Flüchtlingsmädchen in Rostock
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Bundespresseamt/S. Kugler

An encounter filmed in the northern German city of Rostock between a tearful Palestinian refugee girl from Lebanon and the German chancellor has fueled a debate over Germany's asylum policy. Fourteen-year-old Reem, who has lived in Germany for four years, told Chancellor Angela Merkel her family faced deportation.

The conversation was part of a youth dialogue held in the city, in which students got the opportunity to talk to the chancellor about their goals and dreams for the future.

Reem 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.

'I also have goals'

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.

Bundeskanzlerin Merkel trifft Flüchtlingsmädchen
Merkel tries to comfort crying ReemImage: picture-alliance/dpa/NDR

"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.