Germany agrees on ‘historic’ steps to embrace migrants

Updated 14 April 2016

Germany agrees on ‘historic’ steps to embrace migrants

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition agreed on Thursday on sweeping measures to spur the integration of migrants and refugees in a “historic” first for a country that long resisted embracing immigration.

The deal, hammered out in seven 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 took in more than one million asylum seekers in 2015 and Merkel has faced virulent criticism from skeptics, particularly from within her conservative camp, who argue that Europe’s top economy is ill-equipped to cope with the influx.
She told reporters the measures, “in a first for Germany” would foster the settlement of those who stay in the country in the long run.
“We know, after hundreds of thousands of refugees arrived in our country, that we are facing a two-pronged challenge: On the one hand controlling the flow of refugees... and of course on the other hand not just registering them but integrating them,” Merkel said.
Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of the SPD called the agreement a “historic step” toward acknowledging the “modernization and opening of our society” and said he hoped it would lead to a broader immigration bill long resisted by conservatives.
“For the first time in the history of the republic, Germany will have its own integration law,” he said, criticizing the neglect the issue suffered in the country over decades.
“The integration of people from very different cultures does not happen on its own, as we were forced to learn based on our experience.”
Beginning in the 1960s, Germany invited Turks and other “guest workers” to fuel its economic miracle but it failed to provide millions of immigrants and their descendants a place in their new society or a path to citizenship.
In recent years, Berlin has looked to immigration as a viable solution to the country’s demographic time-bomb, with a dramatically shrinking native population expected to pose serious problems for Europe’s top economy.
The government’s show of unity Thursday was intended to end months of infighting and breathe life into Merkel’s “We can do it” mantra during the refugee crisis, which she has repeatedly said can also represent an opportunity for Germany.
Meanwhile the closure of the so-called Balkan route taken by many migrants has led to a sharp decline in new arrivals in recent weeks, alleviating some of the political pressure on Merkel.
Under the new pact seen by AFP, federal funds would be used to create 100,000 jobs for asylum seekers receiving benefits.


Peaceful, prosperous, strong Bangladesh in Pakistan's interest, says envoy

Updated 15 min 51 sec ago

Peaceful, prosperous, strong Bangladesh in Pakistan's interest, says envoy

  • Pakistan's high commissioner to Bangladesh says more people-to-people contact necessary

DHAKA: Islamabad wants to enhance “people-to-people” contacts with Dhaka and boost bilateral relations in the areas of trade, business, education, culture and sports, Pakistan’s high commissioner to Bangladesh told Arab News on Thursday.
Imran Ahmed Siddiqui arrived in Dhaka this month after being appointed to the role in November, filling a post that had been vacant for nearly 20 months.
“In addition to government-to-government ties, my endeavor will be to promote and strengthen people-to-people contact as well as bilateral, economic, trade and cultural ties between our two countries,” Siddiqui said. He added that he had sensed a “similar desire among the people and the government of Bangladesh.”
At the end of British colonial rule of India in 1947, the territory of what is now Bangladesh became East Pakistan, politically united with West Pakistan but separated from it by hundreds of kilometers of Indian land.
East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh after a war between India and Pakistan in 1971 that killed nearly 3 million people. Relations between Islamabad and Dhaka have remained frosty since.
In 2019, Bangladesh imported goods worth around $736 million from Pakistan, while the country’s export volume was around $44 million, according to the State Bank of Pakistan.
Siddiqui said: “There’s huge potential that still remains to be explored and tapped. We have to work in partnership to facilitate frequent productive engagements between our commercial sectors, including robust participation in each other’s trade exhibitions and shows, and closer collaboration between the chambers of commerce and industry.”
The two countries also need to work together to address issues relating to their business visa regimes, he added.
“While Pakistan has already upgraded Bangladesh to Visa Category A, a similar measure by the Bangladesh government could help promote frequent interaction between our business communities, which is a prerequisite for strong trade relations,” Siddiqui said.
The Bangladeshi cricket team is currently playing a three-match T20 series against Pakistan at Gaddafi Stadium in the Pakistani city of Lahore. The third match of the series will be played next Monday.
Siddiqui said the Bangladeshi cricket team’s Pakistan tour is the beginning of a new era of friendship between the two nations. It will enable them “to further promote constructive bilateral engagements at all levels,” he added.
“I believe this cricket series will look more like a sporting event between two brothers and friends, rather than a fight between two rivals,” he said.
“This visit will generate mutual goodwill and friendliness, and will bring our two nations even closer.”
Siddiqui expressed appreciation for the “hospitality” of the Bangladeshi government toward more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state after a military-led crackdown in August 2017 that the UN has said was perpetrated with “genocidal intent.” Myanmar denies this.
Siddiqui said Pakistan is “constructively engaged” with different international organizations on the issue of Rohingya refugees, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
“We’ve noted with appreciation the hospitality offered by the Bangladesh government to a large number of refugees, as we ourselves have been sheltering, in the recent past, the highest number of refugees in the world,” he added, referring to Pakistan’s large population of Afghan refugees.
“We support all efforts for the return of refugees in safety and dignity. Pakistan is closely monitoring international developments in this regard, and will remain engaged in the future too.”
He said Pakistan views Bangladesh with “respect, affection and admiration,” adding that “a peaceful, prosperous and strong Bangladesh is in our interest.”