Angela Merkel said she would ‘make essentially the same decisions’ when a journalist questioned whether she regrets opening the German border to migrants in 2015.
She told the annual summer press conference in Berlin: ‘When people are standing at the German-Austrian border or the Hungarian-Austrian border, they have to be treated like human beings.’
More than one million people applied for asylum in Germany for the first time in 2015-2016 during a pivotal moment in Merkel’s now 15-year tenure.
At first Merkel seemed to have public opinion on her side taking smiling selfies with the new arrivals and coining the now legendary phrase ‘We can do this!’
But the debate around migration became deeply divisive, eating into public trust in Merkel and even leading to a far-right party – the AfD – gaining a meaningful presence in parliament for the first time since the Nazi regime.
Headline-grabbing events, such as mass sexual assaults committed against women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015/2016 and a Berlin Christmas market attack in December 2016, also led to a rise in anger directed at migrants.
However Merkel on Friday pointed to successes in integrating refugees into the job market and German society.
Her controversial pact with Turkey gave the country aid and the promise of visa-free travel in Europe in exchange for Turkey’s agreement to stop migration and to accept migrants back from Greece.
‘Nevertheless, the subject will continue to be of concern to us and will remain so in the years to come,’ she said.
‘The subject of migration… is not finished. It will be a constant theme for the 21st century.’
Last year 1,345,943 foreigners migrated to Germany, almost half of the amount that migrated to Germany in 2015 (2,016,241), according to The Federal Statistical Office.
Of those foreigners 165,938 applied for refugee status the majority of which were from war-torn Syria (41,094).
The Asylum Information Database reported that of those 165,938 applications, 54,034 were rejected and 45,053 were granted refugee status.
Numbers in 2015 were staggeringly higher with 362,153 applications for refugee status, 77,782 rejections and 81,547 successes.
Syrian migrants also made up the majority of these applications in 2015 with asylum seekers from Albania, Kosovo and Serbia making up the next highest numbers.
These three countries differed last year when Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan had the most applicants after Syria.