Meet Angela, the 6-year-old Syrian named after Germany's ex-chancellor


By AGENCY

Six-year-old Angela was named after Germany's former chancellor Angela Merkel after her parents fled war-torn Syria in 2015 and were able to reach Germany due to Merkel's historic decision to open the country's borders. Photo: Christoph Reichwein/dpa

The six-year-old girl is eager to show off her handwriting skills. Pen in hand, she carefully crafts the letters. After "A" comes "N", then "G", then Angela, her name.

In Germany, her name is practically synonymous with nearly 16 years of unflappable crisis management by the nation's first female chancellor.

The name is a rare choice for a child born in 2015, though, a year most parents in Germany named their kids Sophie, Marie, Maximilian or Alexander.

But Angela's parents came to Germany from Syria and were determined to name their baby after long-term chancellor Angela Merkel who governed from 2005 to 2021.

That period included the European migration crisis, when 1.3 million refugees and migrants sought asylum, the most in a single year since World War II.

Most were Syrians, fleeing a civil war that forced millions of families from their homes. However, higher numbers of Afghans, Nigerians, Pakistanis and Iraqis also sought safety, while the number of economic migrants from the Balkans spiked too.

Merkel was dubbed the "crisis chancellor" but migration may have been one of the most complex issues she faced during her nearly 16-year stint at the helm of Europe's largest economy.

Of all the statements she made in that time, none have echoed down the years as much as "We'll manage this", said on Aug 31 as the scale of the movement of people was just emerging.

Merkel (right), then chancellor of Germany, taking a selfie with refugee Schakir Kedida in Berlin in September 2015. Photo: picture alliance/Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpaMerkel (right), then chancellor of Germany, taking a selfie with refugee Schakir Kedida in Berlin in September 2015. Photo: picture alliance/Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa

Medea and Ezzat, Angela's parents, also fled war-torn Syria that year and found refuge in Cologne. When their daughter was born in December, they named her after the chancellor to express their gratitude.

Children are often named after athletes, stars or singers – and the former chancellor. Many other families from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq also named their baby girls Angela after Merkel.

"She has helped many people. She has helped us," says Ezzat, who now works in a supermarket warehouse, of the former German leader.

He is still glad his daughter is named Angela, even as the chancellor's legacy has started to fade since she retired in 2021, while criticism is growing of her government's Russian policy since the start of Moscow's war.

Back in 2015, Merkel's decision to keep the border open to the thousands of refugees stuck in Hungary caused massive controversy, splitting the nation.

For some on the right, she became a hate figure while others celebrated her openness to those fleeing conflict and likewise welcomed the new arrivals.

Her decision to admit more than one million refugees, far more than other countries at the time, is changing Germany in ways that are only starting to become clear.

The number of people seeking asylum in Germany has fallen significantly since then, while the focus also shifted during the pandemic.

But little Angela, who loves dancing, is living testimony to the fact that Merkel's decisions had a direct impact on many people's lives.

Merkel, for her part, appears to have appreciated the gesture. Young Angela received a special gift on her first day of school: a photograph of the former chancellor signed "For Angela", sent by Merkel's office.

That is partly thanks to a local couple in Cologne who have been helping her parents settle into their new life since they arrived.

Angela proudly sets the framed picture of the chancellor next to her other treasures, including her new Frozen school backpack that is decorated with images from the Disney film about magic, friendship and the power of love.

She is a huge fan of the film's heroes, Anna and Elsa, and now of Merkel too.

For Angela, starting school is a flurry of books, sweets and a classroom of new friends.

Meanwhile for her father Ezzat, Merkel will always be a hero, retired or not, come what may.

"She is always here," he says, pointing to his heart. – dpa

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