Germany agrees steps to integrate refugees, fight terrorism

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) and Bavarian state premier and leader of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) Horst Seehofer (R) give a press conference on April 14, 2016 at the Chancellery in Berlin.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition agreed on tough measures to spur the integration of migrants and refugees, including sanctions for failing to take part in programmes such as language classes. / AFP PHOTO / ODD ANDERSEN

Berlin / AFP

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition agreed on Thursday on tough measures to spur the integration of migrants and refugees, including sanctions for failing to take part in programmes such as language classes.
The deal, hammered out in six hours of late-night talks between Merkel’s conservative Christian Union bloc and the Social Democrats (SPD), also included plans for new anti-terror legislation.
The integration bill would take a carrot-and-stick approach, providing subsidised courses to help newcomers find their way in German life but, in some cases, denying residence permits to those who fail to take up the offer.
“Germany now has an integration law, 50 years after the start of immigration,” tweeted the leader of the SPD’s parliamentary group, Thomas Oppermann. He was referring to postwar Germany’s programme to invite Turks and other “guest workers” to fuel its economic miracle which was criticised for failing to provide millions of immigrants and their descendents a stake in German society and a path to citizenship.
Under the new pact seen by AFP, federal funds would be used to create 100,000 jobs for asylum seekers receiving benefits.
Those facing imminent deportation would be excluded but asylum seekers taking part in job training would be shielded from expulsion for the length of the programme.
Refugees who abandon state-assigned housing would face unspecified consequences, but waiting periods for acceptance courses teaching German language and customs are to be slashed to six weeks from three months currently.
“Learning the language is also necessary for temporary stays in Germany,” the document states.
The right-left coalition also agreed to give more funding, personnel and powers to security forces to combat terrorism. A significant new provision would allow federal police to deploy undercover officers for attack prevention as well as criminal prosecution.
It would also allow the secret services to step up cooperation with their counterparts from partner states in Europe and NATO as well as Israel.
The draft law is to be completed on May 24 and then presented to parliament, where the so-called grand coalition has a large majority.
Merkel and her coalition partners were to hold a news conference on the agreement at 1000 GMT.
Germany took in more than one million asylum seekers in 2015 and Merkel has faced mounting criticism from sceptics, particularly from within her conservative camp, arguing that Europe’s top economy is ill-equipped to cope with the influx.
The closure of the so-called Balkan route taken by many migrants has led to a sharp decline in new arrivals in recent weeks.

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