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Why Angela Merkel is taking selfies with refugees

Germany's chancellor spent an afternoon with refugees in Berlin.
Germany's chancellor spent an afternoon with refugees in Berlin.
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Forget Texts From Hillary — now it's all about Selfies With Angela.

On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spent an afternoon taking selfies with refugees outside a refugee center in Berlin. The resulting photos are remarkable: image after image of Merkel smiling and posing with smartphone-wielding refugees, most of whom look stunned at the realization that their long, dangerous journey to Europe has led them not only to safety in Germany, but to a casual photo op with one of the most powerful leaders in the world.

But fun as they are, Merkel's smiling asylum-seeker selfies are a lighthearted manifestation of a serious shift in her approach to dealing with refugees in Germany.

Europe is currently experiencing its largest refugee crisis since World War II, and Germany has taken the lead in trying to convince other EU countries to open their borders to refugees and share the burden of receiving and integrating them. But so far, most other countries have responded to the refugee crisis with fear and concern. Merkel's selfies seem like an effort to combat that fear by humanizing refugees and showing them as smiling individuals rather than a faceless, threatening mass of people.

Merkel's selfies are a way to humanize refugees — and make Merkel herself seem more sympathetic

An iPhone-wielding young man takes a picture with Angela Merkel.

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Merkel's selfies were part of a day-long visit to centers providing services to refugees in the German capital. The chancellor spent time in several different facilities, including an asylum application center, a school that offers special language classes for newly arrived migrant children, and a migrant shelter.

The visit represents a huge shift in tone for Merkel. It is only her second visit to a refugee center in her entire 10-year term — the first was in August, when she visited a center in the town of Heidenau following heavy neo-Nazi riots there. And a few months ago Merkel was sharply criticized for her insensitive response to a sobbing Palestinian refugee girl who begged to be allowed to stay in Germany.

But now that Merkel and the German government are taking the lead in urging European countries to respond humanely to the European refugee crisis, Merkel's approach has become noticeably friendlier. Between her appointments, she stopped for pictures with the cheering refugees outside.

Next, please!

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Her new approach is clearly popular with refugees. According to the German media outlet Berliner Zeitung, among refugees "Merkel is celebrated as a heroine."

Let's have at least one more: Germany's chancellor on a selfie-taking mission.

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Of course, solving the refugee crisis will require much more than an afternoon of selfies. And some German media outlets accused Merkel of ignoring the difficulties of the German asylum system in favor of staging photo ops as the "refugee chancellor."

"The visit is a good sign," German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung commented on Merkel's migrant tour, but "it doesn't change anything."