German Parliament passes new refugee integration law

The German Parliament agreed on Thursday to a new law setting out measures for integrating the large numbers of refugees who have entered the nation, including the creation of jobs for asylum seekers.

The law, which was passed by the lower house of German parliament, the Bundestag, also includes measures to curb benefits for those who refuse to take steps to integrate into German society.

About 1 million refugees entered Germany last year, fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

Unveiling plans for the law four months ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel described the legislation as historic.

Merkel has come under fire for her handling of the refugee crisis, which first emerged last September when she effectively opened Germany's borders to refugees seeking to enter Europe.

Her decision sparked tensions in her ruling conservative Christian Democrat-led coalition, sent her government's approval ratings down and contributed to a sharp swing against her party in three key state elections held in March.

But since then, opinion polls show support for Merkel's political bloc is recovering as the migration crisis disappears from headlines following Berlin's success in introducing measures to stem the influx of refugees and absorb those already in the nation.

Still, a study released on Thursday showed support in Germany for diversity in the population has ebbed amid a sense of unease over the migrants in the country.

The study, conducted by the University of Bielefeld found that almost 43 per cent of the population thought the "increasing diversity" of German society was good. This marks a drop from two years ago, when support for a more diversified population stood at 47 per cent.

"For a long time, resentment against immigrants has not only been found on the right side of politics," said Berlin's Mercator Foundation, which was part of the research project.

The study was based on a survey of 1,300 people between December 2015 and January 2016. In addition, 205 people with migrant background were also surveyed.

Berlin's new integration law also came under fire from the government's commissioner for integration, who said it would alienate the very people it ought to include.

Aydan Ozoguz said that, while the law was an important step in guaranteeing integration measures for newcomers to the country, the legislation failed to define who is entitled to state support.

"A legal definition of 'good prospects for permanent residence,' which has become the deciding criterion for access to language courses and education subsidies, is missing," Ozoguz told the media group Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

But Ozoguz argued that decisions on benefits should be made on a case-by-case basis and that they should not take into account the individual's country of origin or the status of their asylum application.

The law has also been criticized by some refugee groups as being counterproductive.

Especially controversial is the so-called residence allocation, whereby the government can limit the movement of approved asylum seekers by determining where they live for a three-year period.

Last update: Thu, 07/07/2016 - 23:21

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