Merkel reaches out to tearful Afghan refugee boy

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Media captionEdris from Afghanistan told Chancellor Merkel he was "very happy"

An Afghan boy thanked German Chancellor Angela Merkel and shed a few tears in front of her Christian Democrat (CDU) supporters, during an emotional debate on the migrant crisis.

Earlier a CDU activist urged Mrs Merkel to resign, condemning her "laissez-faire" refugee policy as "a burden that we will not get rid of any time soon".

There was applause when the Afghan boy, called Edris, said in German: "I would like to thank you, Mrs Merkel".

He was tearful when she shook his hand.

The emotional moment was reminiscent of Mrs Merkel's controversial encounter with a tearful Palestinian girl, whom she comforted on German TV in July 2015. The girl, Reem, feared deportation to a camp in Lebanon.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption In 2015 Mrs Merkel's "open-door" policy towards refugees triggered a strong backlash

Last year, 890,000 asylum seekers arrived in Germany - an unprecedented influx. And in January-October this year the German authorities received 693,758 asylum requests.

The largest groups in January-October were: Syrians (38%), Afghans (18%) and Iraqis (13.5%), the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) reported. Many can settle in Germany as refugees fleeing war and persecution.

But the influx has put pressure on housing and the welfare system. The crisis also triggered criticism of Mrs Merkel, including within CDU ranks.

The nationalist, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) is now a serious rival to the CDU in some regions.

Mrs Merkel plans to run for a fourth term as chancellor in elections next year. She insists that Germany has a humanitarian and historic duty to help refugees.

Activist says 'resign'

There were boos when a veteran CDU member, Ulrich Sauer, told a regional CDU conference in the western city of Heidelberg: "Madame Chancellor, step down.

"With your truly unparalleled 'laissez-faire' refugee policy you have burdened us with something that we will not get rid of any time soon."

The mood changed when Konrad Reuter, a retired teacher who helps refugees, introduced Edris and the boy's proud father.

Edris was lifted up to say "thank you, Mrs Merkel" on a big video screen, drawing applause.

"I am very, very happy," the boy said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Edris wiped away tears when Mrs Merkel greeted him and his father in person

On the podium Mrs Merkel, smiling broadly, told him: "Okay, you learned a lot of German already. Do you sometimes speak German?"

Edris said: "I only speak [German] to my dad."

Mrs Merkel replied: "You speak German to your dad? That's pretty good already. Is your mum here too? No, oh well then keep on practising."

Edris was heard saying "I wanted to touch your hands once" - prompting Mrs Merkel to go over to the side of the hall, where she met Edris and his father. Edris wiped away tears as she shook his hand, surrounded by photographers.

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