Germany’s humane rush to integrate refugees

Chancellor Angela Merkel has helped stem the flow of migrants into Europe and now has a plan to integrate many in Germany. The plan offers both carrots and sticks to ensure ‘cohesion’ in German society.

Painter apprentice Yar Mohammad Haiqar from Afghanistan speaks with painter Anita Brunner (L), owner of Brunner Painting, at a construction site in Regensburg, southern Germany, April 6. Brunner hired Haiqar as an apprentice after six weeks of work experience. Haiqar, who is in Germany as asylum seeker, arrived 2 years ago from Afghanistan.

The chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, has tried to make sure the European Union maintains a humane face while solving its migrant crisis. She has lost much of her popularity as a result. But her benevolent efforts have so far helped reduce the flow of people fleeing to Europe from war or hardship in the Middle East. She has done that mainly through an agreement with Turkey to allow legal migration and the return of economic migrants.

Now she has turned to a more difficult task: how to settle more than 1 million asylum seekers within Germany.

In a historic first, the country’s leading political parties agreed Thursday on an integration plan for legal newcomers. The proposed law, which is expected to pass in coming weeks, would quickly teach the German language to refugees and provide housing throughout the country to prevent a concentration of immigrants.

The plan aims to avoid the mistake that Germany made in the 1960s of inviting millions of Turks as “guest workers” for its factories but failing to integrate them very well after they stayed on. This time, the newly welcomed migrants will receive government benefits only if they stick with their language courses and live in the housing provided them. As an added incentive, the government will offer job training and 100,000 low-paid jobs.

“Only those refugees who work toward their own integration will receive a permanent residence permit,” Ms. Merkel said.

The carrot-and-stick plan represents Germany’s steady progress toward a society defined more by its shared ideals than a singular ethnicity. Merkel’s hope is that residents in Germany, both old and new, find “cohesion.” In a recent address, she said, “It is important for us not to let ourselves be divided.”

People fleeing to Germany want to change their lives, she says, and the government must now assist them. Integrating them will also reduce a rising fear among many Germans of some Muslim refugees becoming isolated and resorting to violent extremism.

Germany’s welcome mat, while still a work in progress and one that is conditional in demanding a degree of assimilation, may help it become one of Europe’s most open societies. It is already a model of humaneness for a continent still split over the refugee crisis.

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