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Refugee influx leaves ‘Mama Merkel’ isolated in EU

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One year after opening Germany’s doors to a mass influx of refugees, Chancellor Angela Merkel insists she was right and has stuck to her message that “we can do it”.

But while the bold move won her the gratitude of those fleeing war and misery, and broad praise for her principled humanitarian stance, she has also been accused of sowing discord in Europe and exacerbating the migrant crisis.

Here are three questions on the momentous events since Merkel decided, on September 4, 2015, to keep open the national borders in the face of the growing influx that would swell arrivals in Germany to over one million asylum seekers in a year.

What motivated Merkel?

Merkel, usually described as cool-headed and rational, apparently took a decision strongly guided by emotion when she decided to allow into Germany tens of thousands of refugees who were stranded in Hungary.

The move surprised the world and saw the German leader hailed as ‘Mama Merkel’ by grateful migrants.

When refugees from the overcrowded Budapest railway station headed on foot through Austria towards Germany on September 4, Vienna and Berlin agreed to let them through, rather than to shutter the borders.

At the time, the public was reeling from the jarring photo of three-year-old Syrian refugee boy Aylan lying dead on a Turkish beach, and the discovery in Austria of 71 dead migrants in a truck.

A German minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that “Merkel was right to open the borders because otherwise there would have been deaths, and the German population would have forced us to open the borders anyway.”

Merkel had also been infuriated by vulgar insults from xenophobic protesters during a visit to a refugee shelter in Heidenau in the former communist east.

It was a “traumatic experience” for her, said Hajo Funke of Berlin’s Free University.

Speaking after over 20,000 migrants crossed German borders during a single weekend, the pastor’s daughter said that if Germany couldn’t help those in desperate need, it would “not be my country anymore”.

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