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George Clooney and his wife, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, met with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday to discuss Europe’s growing refugee crisis.
The Clooneys had a meeting with the German leader Friday morning, in which they discussed the issues surrounding what has been called Europe’s greatest refugee crisis since World War II. The German chancellery released a picture of the meeting, which was also attended by former British foreign secretary David Miliband, who now heads the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted that they talked about “refugee policy and the commitment to the IRC.”
Clooney had earlier made clear he supports Merkel’s open-door policy with regards to refugees fleeing the war in Syria. “I absolutely agree with her,” Clooney told reporters earlier. He has called on the U.S. to take in more refugees to help out Europe.
In an interview with German television after the meeting, Clooney said he and his wife’s questions to Merkel “were mostly about what we can do and what part of this we can talk about in the United States, because you know in the United States we aren’t doing enough … We are a little less involved that we should be. We don’t talk about it enough in the news … It was a conversation about what our involvement could be and what we can do to help with her and what she’s doing. And our hope that she is able to continue the policies of inclusion because it has been the standard bearer for everyone else,”
“(We) talked about the responsibilities of all states, not just European states but states around the world to deal with what is a global problem, not just a Syrian problem or a German issue,” Miliband said in an interview with AP after the meeting. He said it was Clooney’s idea to meet with the German Chancellor.
Merkel told reporters that she had had “a very good conversation” with the Clooneys and Miliband and exchanged ideas for how governments can cooperate with aid organizations to encourage citizens to volunteer to help refugees.
“It wouldn’t be right to come to Berlin and have a film festival and pretend there wasn’t a big global issue for which Germany was in the eye of the storm,” said Miliband.
Clooney will also meet separately with recent refugees to Germany. The actor is in town promoting his film Hail, Caesar!, which opened the Berlin Film Festival on Thursday. Speaking to German television ahead of the Hail, Caesar! gala, he said “Germany is taking on a great responsibility” and that Merkel’s stance has made it “very difficult politically for her.” The German Chancellor has seen her approval ratings tumble since the start of the refugee crisis and faces increasing resistance towards her policies on the matter, even from within her own conservative CDU party. Her detractors argue Merkel’s welcoming stance has helped fuel the influx of migrants, of which more than 1 million applied for asylum in Germany last year.
At the Hail, Caesar! press conference, Clooney snapped at a reporter who asked him what he was doing to ease the refugee crisis. “I spend a lot of time working on these things … I have gone to places that are very dangerous and I work a lot on these things,” Clooney said, throwing the question back at the journalist: “I’d like to know what you are doing to help the situation.”
Germany last year took in around 1 million refugees, more than any other European country. Merkel’s humanitarian approach has been in stark contrast to many other nations, particularly Hungary and Germany’s neighbor Poland, which have called for stricter border controls and, in some cases, a complete stop to refugee applications.
The refugee situation was the main topic of conversation at the opening-night gala for Hail, Caesar!, with Berlin mayor Michael Muller telling the audience that Germany had an historic responsibility to take a stand on the refugee issue.
“Building new walls and barbed wire, shooting at refugees — these are messages that must never be transmitted from Germany ever, ever again,” Muller said, seconding Merkel’s policies.
German film star Til Schweiger, who last year set up a foundation to support refugees in Germany, welcomed Clooney’s engagement with the issue.
“He is absolutely right to raise his voice and use his popularity to influence opinion on this,” Schweiger told The Hollywood Reporter. “The atmosphere in Germany has completely changed and there is a lot more anger and rabble-rousing. Also against me and what I’m doing. But they can say what they want, I have to do what’s right. And I will keep doing it.”
The Berlin Festival itself has put the refugee crisis at the center of this year’s event, urging attendees to donate to refugee charities in Berlin via donation boxes placed around the festival venues. The Berlinale will also be providing free tickets to charities to allow volunteers who would like to to accompany a refugee to select screenings during the festival.
The festival is also showing several films that examine the plight of people fleeing war and poverty, including Fire at Sea, a documentary from director Gianfranco Rosi, about Italy’s Lampedusa island, which has been swamped with refugees crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe. This year’s lineup also includes the Syrian documentary Houses Without Doors, which looks at the city of Aleppo, which has been devastated by the country’s civil war, and Meteorstrasse, a feature about a young Palestinian refugee struggling with daily life in Germany.
At the press conference, Clooney said it will take time for Hollywood to tackle the refugee crisis with its own films.
“The unfortunate thing about the film community is we react to situations much more than we lead the way,” he told reporters, arguing that the news media was best placed right now to address the European refugee issue.
But Vera Luters, a coordinator at the ufaFabrik refugee center in Berlin, praised the actions of VIPs like Clooney and Schweiger.
“It is incredibly important to have prominent figures speak out on this issue, especially now as the climate here in Germany is starting to turn against (Merkel’s policies),” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “They can play a real role in changing people’s opinions.”
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