Karl Lagerfeld evokes Holocaust to bash Germany's Angela Merkel on refugees

The German fashion designer has criticized the "pastor's daughter" for opening Germany to "millions" of migrants. France's media regulator has launched a probe after he made the remarks on a popular French talk show.

France's media regulator announced on Monday that several hundred people had launched complaints against German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld after he appeared on a French talk show over the weekend.

Lagerfeld, who sits as head creative director for Chanel and Fendi, sparked outrage on Saturday when he evoked the Holocaust to criticize German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her open-door policy toward refugees fleeing conflict.

Read more: Peeking into designer Yves Saint Laurent's world

"One cannot — even if there are decades between them — kill millions of Jews so you can bring millions of their worst enemies in their place," Lagerfeld told a French television show on Saturday.

"I know someone in Germany who took in a young Syrian and after four days said, 'The greatest thing Germany invented was the Holocaust.'"

Merkel in crosshairs

At the peak of Europe's migration crisis in 2015, Merkel pledged to offer refuge to Syrians fleeing a devastating civil war, a move that has since divided domestic and regional politics. That year, Germany received nearly 900,000 migrants.

"Merkel had already millions and millions [of immigrants] who are well integrated and who work and all is well … she had no need to take another million to improve her image as the wicked stepmother after the Greek crisis," Lagerfeld said.

Read more: How refugees are settling into Germany, two years on

"Suddenly we see the pastor's daughter," Lagerfeld added, referring to Merkel's father, who was a Protestant pastor in former East Germany (GDR).

While Lagerfeld has been widely criticized on social media networks for his controversial remarks, France's media regulator said it would continue to review the program and the fashion designer's remarks to determine if they merit further response from French authorities.

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Fleeing war and poverty

In late 2014, with the war in Syria approaching its fourth year and Islamic State making gains in the north of the country, the exodus of Syrians intensified. At the same time, others were fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Niger and Kosovo.


Seeking refuge over the border

Vast numbers of Syrian refugees had been gathering in border-town camps in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan since 2011. By 2015, with the camps full to bursting and residents often unable to find work or educate their children, more and more people decided to seek asylum further afield.


A long journey on foot

In 2015 an estimated 1.5 million people made their way on foot from Greece towards western Europe via the "Balkan route". The Schengen Agreement, which allows passport-free travel within much of the EU, was called into question as refugees headed towards the wealthier European nations.


Desperate sea crossings

Tens of thousands of refugees were also attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats. In April 2015, 800 people of various nationalities drowned when a boat traveling from Libya capsized off the Italian coast. This was to be just one of many similar tragedies - by the end of the year, nearly 4,000 refugees were reported to have died attempting the crossing.


Pressure on the borders

Countries along the EU's external border struggled to cope with the sheer number of arrivals. Fences were erected in Hungary, Slovenia, Macedonia and Austria. Asylum laws were tightened and several Schengen area countries introduced temporary border controls.


Closing the open door

Critics of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open-door" refugee policy claimed it had made the situation worse by encouraging more people to embark on the dangerous journey to Europe. By September 2016, Germany had also introduced temporary checks on its border with Austria.


Striking a deal with Turkey

In early 2016, the EU and Turkey signed an agreement under which refugees arriving in Greece could be sent back to Turkey. The deal has been criticized by human rights groups and came under new strain following a vote by the European Parliament in November to freeze talks on Turkey's potential accession to the EU.


No end in sight

With anti-immigration sentiment in Europe growing, governments are still struggling to reach a consensus on how to handle the continuing refugee crisis. Attempts to introduce quotas for the distribution of refugees among EU member states have largely failed. Conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere show no signs coming to an end, and the death toll from refugee sea crossings is on the rise.

ls/dv (AFP, dpa)