German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said although “radical Islamists” are perpetrating acts of terror in Europe, she still believed that “Islam belongs to Germany”.

Merkel made the remarks on Sunday at the TV duel with Martin Schulz, chancellor candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), her major rival in the upcoming federal elections, as refugee and immigration issues are some of the prime focuses in the debate, Xinhua news agency reported.

Both Merkel and Schulz see no issue with Muslim immigration to Germany, but Merkel said the 2015 refugee crisis has left Germany with a “difficult task” of integrating new arrivals into society, making sure they find places in educational institutions and the labor market.

“People who don’t have the right to be in our country should leave it — people have already been deported,” said Merkel, defending her open-door immigration policy, calling for fighting the causes of such crises, like the violence in Syria.

Merkel called for cooperation with Turkey, Libya, Niger and other countries in solving refugee and immigration issues, and in the meantime opening channels for legal immigration. She also urged to better screening asylum seekers on for what reasons they come to Germany.

The SPD chairman Schulz criticized that Merkel had not voted with the European partners at the beginning of the refugee crisis in autumn 2015, however, Merkel defended her decision of two years ago to allow over about 1 million refugees to enter Germany, mostly from war-torn Middle East and North Africa, that she could not act otherwise.

“It had to be decided,” Merkel said.

When talking about anti-terrorist efforts, Schulz said he could not ensure that terrorist attacks like the Berlin attack last December, which killed 12, could not repeat.

The duel was broadcast by four German TV stations and was expected that up to 20 million viewers, about one fourth of German population, could watch it.

It was the only TV debate before German federal elections on September 24. Latest polls showed Merkel’s CDU party and their Bavarian CSU sister enjoying about 17 percentage point lead over Schulz’ SPD, which hoped to save the election campaign with the TV debate.

However, according to the quick poll by Infratest dimap after the debate, about 55 per cent respondents believed that Merkel was more convincing, against 35 per cent of that of Schulz.