She said the rape and murder of a German student allegedly committed by a teenage Afghan asylum seeker and the arrest of a 31-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker over sexual assaults on two Chinese students were ‘terrible isolated incidents’.
Merkel, whose CDU party is holding its annual conference in the city of Essen, called for ‘tough sentencing’ where people were convicted of serious crimes.
But she said she had faith in ‘the response of Germany’s rule of law’ and said there was no reason to suspect all refugees.
Merkel, who is planning to run for a fourth term as Chancellor in next year’s elections, said: ‘We have looked closely at the crime rate among refugees and the picture is varied. That is also the right answer: that you have to differentiate.
‘The fact that some people want to exploit that is something we have to withstand and defend ourselves against.’
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, a close Merkel ally, said an official report about crimes committed by refugees, published this week, showed it was unfair to tar all newcomers with the same brush.
He said there were various anomalies in the report – asylum seekers from Georgia, for example, were more likely to be convicted of property crimes.
Merkel is facing growing alarm among Germans about migrant numbers after more than a million asylum seekers were allowed to enter the country last year.
She has been furiously backtracking on some policies in the face of opinion polls which shows a surge in support for the right-wing populist party, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).
On Monday she did a U-turn and said the burka should be banned in Germany ‘wherever that is legally possible’.
The AfD this week directly linked Merkel’s ‘open door’ policy on migrants to the sex crimes against the three students.