German Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended her policy of welcoming refugees into the country, rejecting claims that her government has affected spending on Germans by allocating money to the settlement of the asylum seekers.
In an interview with the German Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Saturday, Merkel promised to support those who are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, particularly the hundreds of thousands of refugees mostly fleeing conflicts in the Middle East.
“It was the right thing to do that we rose to this humanitarian responsibility and continue to do so… We did not reduce benefits for anyone in Germany as a result of the aid for refugees. In fact, we actually saw social improvements in some areas,” Merkel said.
“We took nothing away from people here, we are still achieving our big goal of maintaining and improving the quality of life in Germany,” she added.
Merkel, who is contemplating a bid for a fourth term as chancellor in the 2017 elections, has recently come under pressure over her “open-door” policy towards refugees.
Merkel’s approval rating has also sunk to a five-year low of 45 percent from 67 percent a year ago. While reports attribute the fall to her refugee policy, such a correlative is unlikely to be a direct one as the German chancellor also enjoys massive support from people in favor of her policies.
A string of attacks attributed to refugees, however, may have adversely affected public opinion in Germany to some extent.
Almost 1.1 million refugees, most of whom were fleeing war and violence in Iraq and Syria, arrived in Germany in 2015.
On Thursday, the German chancellor had told lawmakers of her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) Party that those refugees that do not qualify for asylum in Germany should be deported.
“The most important thing in the coming months is repatriation, repatriation and once more, repatriation,” Merkel said back then, in what was interpreted by some media as a U-turn on her open-door policy.
Last year, the government sent back 21,000 refugees and repatriated 35,000 others in the first seven months of 2016 over their irregular manner of entry into the country.
Anti-refugee protests in German cities
Over the past two days, Germany has been the scene of protests staged for and against refugees in Berlin and Frankfurt.
The demonstrators in Frankfurt called on authorities to seal off German borders and change asylum policies, while a counter-protest was held by refugee supporters who accused far-right groups of fascism.
In the German capital, thousands of pro-refugee demonstrators gathered in the center of the city and blasted a refugee deal between Turkey and the European Union, which they said could pave the way for the mass deportation of asylum seekers.
Reports said police used tear gas to disperse nearly 1,000 demonstrators who had attended the Berlin rally on Friday to demand that the German government do more for refugees.
Several protesters were detained for attempting to enter the Federal Ministry of Labor, according to media reports.
Based on the deal, which was struck with the EU in March to stem the flow of refugees, refugees arriving on European soil via the Aegean Sea may be sent back to Turkey.