A former French minister stirred up controversy Friday after saying Germany “took our Jews and gave us Arabs” as France began taking some of the thousands of refugees arriving in Germany.
Patrick Devedjian, a right-winger who served in the governments of presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, made the remark at a press conference, but quickly tried to backtrack on social media.
“My humorous jest was misplaced,” Devedjian wrote on his Twitter account, saying he regretted it all the more because he himself helps refugees in need.
Devedjian, who comes from an Armenian family and now leads the Hauts-de-Seine region of wealthy suburbs west of Paris, said the joke was meant to be about Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
He flirted with the extreme-right in his youth before moving into more mainstream politics.
As thousands continue to flee poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East, Germany is expected to take in 800,000 asylum-seekers this year, four times the number in 2014 and far more than any other European country.
France has said it will take 24,000 refugees over the next two years, but President Francois Hollande has warned that without a united EU policy to share the burden of migrants, the borderless Schengen system could collapse.