The Palestinian Girl Who Moved Merkel
14 August 2015
By Diana Moukalled
Reem Sahwil, the young Palestinian girl who was reduced to tears in front of
Angela Merkel, told the German chancellor she didn't know what her own future
held so long as her stay in Europe remained uncertain. In a televised forum,
Sahwil spoke of how she would like to go on to college and that it was
difficult to watch others make something of their lives while she was not
able to due to her status as a refugee.
It was a moment of appeal, a moment history will certainly document.
Who could not have been moved by someone as honest and transparent as
14-year-old Reem as she narrated her and her family's plight in Germany?
Speaking in fluent German, she told Merkel of her fears regarding the
possibility of being deporting, before breaking down in tears. Reem, who made
news headlines in several German dailies and websites, seemed to represent
the face of Europe's oppressed newcomers.
Within seconds, Merkel, who is seen as a strong woman and who prior to this
incident was accused of humiliating the Greek prime minister in negotiations
over his country's financial crisis, found herself in an unenviable position.
Reem's tears embarrassed both Merkel and her government, and the incident
raised serious questions about the humanitarian dilemmas facing those fleeing
to Europe from the Middle East. This is what actually made German political
elites rush to act in order to alter laws concerning refugees.
The incident took place during a show about living in Germany, which Merkel
has taken part in before. However, the discussion itself was novel.
For 11 minutes during the forum, Reem explained her story, starting from her
early life in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon—where complications her
mother suffered as she gave birth to her affected Reem's health and made her
incapable of walking normally. She continued to narrate the long and
complicated process her parents went through in order to attain a visa to
come to Germany for medical treatment five years ago, adding that ever since,
they have lived on hopes that Reem will heal and that their asylum
application will be approved so they can stay permanently in the country.
However, weeks prior to the forum, their application was rejected.
Reem, who seems to have quickly mastered the German language, was most
probably excited to attend the forum to narrate her ordeal to Merkel, and
this is exactly what happened. However, Reem surely would not have expected
that this discussion with Merkel would spark such concern and interest among
the German and European public.
The German chancellor failed to comfort the girl, although she did try and
pat her on the shoulder. Merkel's statement that not all those who seek
refuge in Germany can stay and that politics is sometimes hard resulted in a
wave of reactions against her. The German chancellor was criticized after she
responded to Reem's questions in this manner. It is true that she was frank
and clear, but the issue of refugees is not a collective issue but rather one
of individuals, where each individual must narrate his or her own
story—exactly as Reem did. This wider discussion began to surface in Germany
and Europe as the incident went viral and opened people's eyes to the fears
of thousands of refugees who face the threat of forcible deportation.
Reem succeeded in altering the path of her life following the forum as
officials there have said she and her family will not be deported after all.
But what would have happened if Reem hadn't cried and we hadn't seen her
moving tears? Someone ended up helping Reem, who really deserves to achieve
what she aspires to, but who will help all the other countless, and
Perhaps the discussion and concern resulting from this incident will
eventually help give a voice to those refugees who do not have the
opportunity to narrate their suffering on television.
Diana Moukalled is a prominent and well-respected TV journalist in the
Arab world thanks to her phenomenal show Bil Ayn Al-Mojarada (By The Naked
Eye), a series of documentaries on controversial areas and topics which airs
on Lebanon's leading local and satelite channel, Future Television. Diana
also is a veteran war correspondent, having covered both the wars in Iraq and
in Afghanistan, as well as the Isreali "Grapes of Wrath" massacre in southern
Lebanon. Ms. Moukalled has gained world wide recognition and was named one of
the most influential women in a special feature that ran in Time Magazine in