Germany has announced new legal measures requiring migrants and refugees to integrate into society in return for being allowed to live and work in the country.
Under the coalition government’s measures, announced on Thursday morning, asylum seekers face cuts to support if they reject mandatory integration measures such as language classes or lessons in German laws or cultural basics.
According to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the aim of Germany’s first ever integration law is to make it easier for asylum seekers to gain access to the German labour market, with the government promising 100,000 new
“working opportunities”, expected to include low-paid workfare jobs.
A law requiring employers to give preference to German or EU job applicants over asylum seekers will be suspended for three years.
The vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, described the agreement as a historic step, saying he was convinced that “in a few years’ time this law will be seen as a milestone for our immigration law”.
More than 476,000 asylum applications were registered in Germany in 2015, with officials putting the total number of arrivals at over a million.
Yet the number of asylum seekers arriving in central Europe has dropped off considerably in recent weeks due to Balkan countries sealing off their borders and the European Union and Turkey agreeing on a deal to return refugees arriving in Greece.
Germany announced earlier this month that the number of refugees entering the country via Austria had dropped off seven-fold. Switzerland said on Thursday the number of people seeking asylum in the country had dropped for the fourth consecutive month, with officials registering 1,992 requests in March, roughly 25% fewer than in February.
“The reason for this development is the continuous decline of migration via the Balkan route,” the Swiss migration office said. “Since March, affected countries along the Balkan route have brought transit traffic to a virtual standstill.”
On Thursday Austria announced it was ready to step up measures to discourage people from making the journey to Europe from countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
Defence minister Hans Peter Doskozil told Austrian broadcaster ORF that his country would close off the Brenner Pass border crossing if Italy refused to accept people turned back by Austria.
Austria has announced a cap of 37,500 asylum applications for 2016. After receiving about 90,000 applications for asylum last year, the country has so far registered between 16,000 and 17,000 applications in 2016.
Doskozil expressed skepticism about the EU-Turkey agreement, saying: “We don’t know how long the deal will last.”
While the numbers of people arriving in central Europe have dropped off, witnesses report desperate scenes in camps on either side of the Mediterranean.
The president of the European council, Donald Tusk, warned on Wednesday that “alarming” numbers of potential migrants were gathering in Libya to cross the Mediterranean. Around 4,000 people were rescued from the Mediterranean between Libya and Sicily on Monday and Tuesday.
Pope Francis will visit a camp on Saturday on the Greek island of Lesbos, where hundreds of thousands of refugees have arrived via the sea from Turkey in the past year. The island is at the centre of the controversial refugee deal between the EU and Turkey.
“During his visit, Francis will shed light on the crucial role of local and international solidarity to help some of the most vulnerable people amid the refugee crisis,” said Gauri van Gulik, deputy director for Europe at Amnesty International.
“But he must also speak out about the violations, fear and uncertainty suffered by thousands of refugees and migrants trapped in limbo on Lesbos and elsewhere in Greece.”
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters the pope would make the visit to call “all communities of believers to solidarity and responsibility” amid a “situation of intense suffering”.
April 15th 2016