"I have goals in life like everyone else," a 13-year-old girl identified as Reem said during the discussion organized by Merkel’s own office. Her family has lived in Germany for four years and faces possible deportation.
"I want to go to university, that’s a goal I want to achieve."
The girl appeared bright-eyed and hopeful, the world nothing but ahead of her at such a young age. She exuded the optimism many of us must have felt at that age, and that, perhaps, Chancellor Merkel herself once felt.
That girl’s dream is no more.
"Sometimes politics is hard," Merkel shrugged.
"But you know in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon there are thousands and thousands [of people] and if we say you can all come and you can all come from Africa and you can all come. We can’t manage that."
With her future suddenly up in the air, Reem burst into tears.
Merkel, for her part, took it like a champ. Walking over to the sobbing child, Merkel began to comfort her by rubbing her back. Little consolation when your future has just gone up in smoke.
The incident has already inspired the viral hashtag #merkelstreichelt, translating, roughly, to merkelstrokes.
Immigration has become a hot-button issue in Germany as of late. Conservative hardliners have expressed fears about a flood of asylum seekers and some have supported Merkel’s tough stance.
"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," the forum’s moderator, Felix Seibert-Daiker, told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. "Many colleagues would have talked around it."
— Mrrmaid (@lauralindal) July 16, 2015
Merkel, of course, bravely faced down her challenger. A 13-year-old.