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Learn German or Lose Benefits, Berlin Tells Migrants | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a news conference after an European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, October 16, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Learn German or lose benefits, says a new law that has been discussed in Germany on Thursday by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government. The law compels migrants granted residence rights to show willingness to integrate into the society hosting them by learning German and seeking work or have their benefits cut.

Ending months of disagreement, Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), their conservative Bavarian CSU allies and the Social Democrats (SPD) struck out a deal in the early morning hours for post-war Germany’s first law on integrating immigrants.

They also worked out new counter-terrorism measures and agreed to ease rules giving European Union citizens priority in employment so migrants can enter the job market more easily.

The deal comes after months of disagreement about how to cope with over a million migrants and refugees who poured into Germany last year. Those fleeing war in Syria and Iraq have the best chances of staying while economic migrants may be sent home.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters the proposals make clear that “there are duties and obligations for all who come to us.”

Merkel said the agreement, to be approved by her cabinet on May 24, aims at integrating “as many people in the labor force as possible.” Along with language learning, it says that migrants who break off job training courses will also lose benefits.

With Europe’s migrant crisis, the chancellor said Germany faced two challenges. The first was to coordinate the influx of refugees with European partners and progress had been made on that, she said.

“The other challenge is to register and achieve the integration of the large number of people who have arrived here,” she told reporters.

“We will have a German national law on integration – this is the first time in post-war Germany that this has happened, it is an important, qualitative step.”

Merkel’s coalition has witnessed escalated tensions towards the end of last year with all three parties advocating different priorities for dealing with the migrant crisis.

Since then, the influx of migrants, many from Syria and other war-torn parts of the Middle East and Africa, has reduced and the pressure has eased. The EU has also done a deal with Turkey to enlist its help in slowing the flow.

These security measures, adopted as a response to recent attacks in France and Brussels, include increasing police powers to deploy undercover agents and empowering Germany’s intelligence agencies to exchange information with foreign partners, under clear conditions.

Last month, German authorities stepped up security measures at airports, train stations and the country’s borders with Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

All three parties welcomed the immigration agreement; Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said the idea of creating an integration law for the first time in Germany was a “historic step” and called the proposed measures “a good foundation.”

Other elements include reducing the waiting times for integration courses teaching German, but they’ll be made mandatory for more migrants, including those who already have some basic German language skills.