This Day In History: August 31

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Igniting a heated debate within her nation and across the globe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declares “Wir schaffen das” (“We can do this”) on August 31, 2015, as she commits to accepting a mass influx of refugees amid Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

Merkel’s controversial stance involved providing humanitarian support to approximately 1 million refugees—primarily from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq—who sought refuge in the continent. 

Supporters of the open-door policy saw it as a commitment to upholding human rights, while critics argued it would cause economic strain, cultural clashes, security issues and other long-term implications. The Alternative für Deutschland, an anti-immigration party, experienced a temporary surge in the polls.

“I put it simply, Germany is a strong country … we have managed so many things—we can do this,” she said during a press conference following her visit to a refugee center outside Dresden. 

The statement received widespread media attention and became a recurring theme in her speeches. “If we start having to apologize for showing a friendly face in an emergency situation, then this is not my country,” Merkel, who served as Germany’s first woman chancellor for 18 years before stepping down in 2018, said in September. 

According to The New York Times, migrants who arrived in Germany in 2015 and 2016 continued to integrate into society, with half of them holding jobs and three in four saying they feel “welcome” or “very welcome” in the country.