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As Europe grapples with migrants, benefi ts limited

BERLIN, Feb 3, (AP): Germany is mulling taking away benefits from asylumseekers if they refuse to try to learn the language and integrate; Denmark has just approved a measure to let police seize valuables from migrants to help cover their housing and food costs; and an Austrian province this week is expected to more than halve payments to many refugees. As Europe struggles to cope with the influx of more than 1 million migrants in 2015 alone, countries are increasingly coming up with new procedures to cope with them — sometimes even at the risk of clashing with national constitutions and international agreements. Germany’s high court in 2012 ruled that the benefits the country paid to asylum-seekers were far too low, and violated the constitutionally guaranteed “fundamental right to a minimum existence.” That forced the government to start calculating payments along the same lines as those to Germans receiving social assistance.

It’s the comparison with what Germans receive that Labor Minister Andrea Nahles pointed to on Monday as she explained her plan to cut benefits for migrants who don’t want to integrate into German society. Just as long-term unemployed are obligated to take jobs if they’re offered, asylum-seekers should be expected to take German language and integration classes, and also start working when they’re able, Nahles said, while also stressing immigrants wouldn’t be asked to give up their religion, views or traditions. “Whoever needs help will get it,” she said. “But you can’t get support for nothing.” She now plans to propose a change to Germany’s asylum law to allow the changes she wants, but whether that will be enough remains to be seen.

Germany is party to international agreements that compel nations, among other things, to provide refugees with an adequate standard of living, said Verena Haan, an Amnesty International economy and human rights expert in Germany. And according to national law, the high court has ruled “migration criteria” cannot play a role in assessing social benefits, she said. “How much a person needs in order to live, your actual necessities, have nothing to do with whether you’re ‘willing to integrate,’” Haan said. “Therefore considering coupling benefits to behavior rather than to needs is problematic.” The plans for benefit curbs come amid a steady souring of the mood and tone in Europe toward the ongoing influx of migrants.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday of refugees: “We expect that, when there is peace in Syria again and IS has been beaten in Iraq, you go back home with the knowledge you gained here.” Merkel stressed last fall that there is no limit to the number of people who can be granted asylum, but she faces increasing pressure to curb the number of newcomers. Another idea being fl oated at top levels in Germany is to force newcomers to live in a particular place, in order to spread out the burden evenly among communities. Opponents maintain that would violate constitutional guarantees of freedom of movement. Germany took in the largest number of migrants in 2015 with nearly 1.1 million newcomers, but it is not the only country scrambling to deal with them. Denmark last week passed a measure to let police seize valuables worth more than $1,500 from asylum-seekers to help cover their housing and food costs while their cases are being processed. That brought regulations in line with welfare rules for Danes, who must sell assets worth more than 10,000 kroner ($1,500) before they can receive social benefi ts.

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