BERLIN, March 28, (Agencies): German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said he is planning a new law that will require refugees to learn German and integrate into society, or else lose their permanent right of residence. The initiative comes after voters punished Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in regional elections earlier this month, giving a thumbs-down to her open-door refugee policy and turning in droves to the anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD). Around 1 million migrants arrived in Germany last year – many fleeing conflict and economic hardship in the Middle East and Africa – and de Maiziere said around 100,000 more had arrived so far this year.
Germany expected that in return for language lessons, social benefits and housing, the new arrivals made an effort to integrate, he told ARD television. “For those who refuse to learn German, for those who refuse to allow their relatives to integrate – for instance women or girls – for those who reject job offers: for them, there cannot be an unlimited settlement permit after three years,” he said.
De Maiziere, who belongs to Merkel’s conservatives party, added that he wanted “a link between successful integration and the permission for how long one is allowed to stay in Germany.” Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel welcomed the draft law, which is planned for May. “We must not only support integration but demand it,” Gabriel told mass-selling daily Bild. Gabriel’s Social Democrats, the junior partner in Germany’s ruling coalition with Merkel’s conservatives, also suffered losses in this month’s elections in three German states. Meanwhile, Greece said Monday it would make use of loudspeakers at a migrants’ camp on the Macedonia frontier to dispel “irresponsible rumours” that the border is about to reopen.
“We are trying to step up efforts to address refugees and migrants in their own language and without an intermediary,” said Giorgos Kyritsis, spokesman for the government’s coordination panel on the migration. Additional interpreters would be sent to the camp and a loudspeaker system — currently operated by the UN refugee agency — would be employed to make official announcements, he said.
On Sunday, several hundred migrants, including people in wheelchairs or carrying babies, dashed for the border following rumours it would be opened. Greek police and other migrants helped to calm the situation. The commotion appeared to be triggered by a rumour that journalists and Red Cross officials would help migrants force their way across the fence, a young Syrian refugee told the Athens News Agency (ANA).
The rush came two weeks after hundreds marched from Idomeni towards the Macedonian border, even crossing a surging river to do so, before they were stopped by Macedonian troops. In related news, a protest by hundreds of migrants, egged on by activists to demand that the border between Greece and Macedonia be opened, passed without any serious incidents on Sunday.
However, it exposed rifts between different ethnic groups among the over 11,000 refugees and migrants stranded at this makeshift encampment, some for weeks, after Balkan countries on what used to be the busiest migrant route to central and northern Europe shut down their borders. The European Union has effectively approved this policy by signing a deal with Turkey that discourages war refugees from making the sea crossing from Turkey to Greece and ending the hopes of migrants from other countries of being admitted into Europe.
Several hundred Iraqis and Syrians in the Idomeni border camp stood between protesters and police on Sunday, thwarting the protesters’ efforts to march toward the fence separating Greece from Macedonia. Scuffles broke out between the two groups.
The protesters twice broke through the barrier the Iraqis and Syrians have formed, only to be pushed back by Greek riot police who used only their shields. People speaking for the Iraqis and Syrians, including Kurds from both countries, told police that they are not taking part in the protest, which they said was mounted by people from Afghanistan and Pakistan. They also said that activists were circulating at the camp Saturday. In related development, the Libyan coastguard on Sunday stopped three boats carrying 600 migrants including pregnant women trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, an official said.
The coastguard “intercepted three large dinghies off the coast of Sabratha” around 70 kilometres (45 miles) west of Tripoli, Colonel Ayoub Qassem, a spokesman for the Tripoli government’s navy, said. He said all the migrants were from Africa, adding “there were 80 women including some who were pregnant.” The colonel rejected a statement from French Defence Minister Jean- Yves Le Drian on Thursday that some 800,000 migrants were in Libya hoping to cross to Europe. “The number is exaggerated,” he said.
Around 330,000 migrants have landed in Italy from Libya since the start of 2014. Libya has long been a stepping stone for migrants seeking a better life in Europe, with Italy some 300 kilometres (185 miles) across the sea. People smugglers have stepped up their lucrative business there in the chaos that followed the 2011 ouster of longtime dictator Maammer Gaddafi. European leaders fear that a deal with Turkey to tackle the EU’s worst ever migrant crisis will increase crossings attempts from Libya.