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Germany

Chancellor wants to expand 'integration courses' for immigrants

Germany intends to expand the program of courses to help immigrants to integrate. Chancellor Merkel pointed to successful examples of integration and said society should put more effort into working with immigrants.

A man writes the word integration on a chalkboard

Around 1.8 million people will attend the courses

By 2015 German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to give every immigrant the opportunity to take part in integration courses. The government estimates that by that time around 1.8 million people will have attended the courses since they were first introduced in 2005.

"We're catching up in 10 years on what we failed to do in the previous 30 years," Merkel said at the end of an integration summit in Berlin on Wednesday.

"We want to be more concrete." That was the message of German chancellor Angela Merkel at the Berlin integration summit. She wants to set clear standards to make it easier to assess what Germany has achieved, and what is still to be done on the issue of integration.

'Multiculturalism has failed'

Merkel said the notion that integration could be achieved simply by different living next to one another was outdated.

Merkel at the summit with fellow delegates

Politicians, experts and minority groups took part

Merkel, who said in a speech last month that "multiculturalism has failed," set out to prove that integration would not happen by itself. She said that true integration required much more energy and engagement from all of society.

The chancellor praised the atmosphere at the summit as being "the right working environment." The 120 participants, including politicians, economists, and representatives of the police and the media apparently exchanged "controversial opinions" with one another. Merkel said they had spoken openly about "what had yet to be achieved."

For example, she pointed out that there was a lot of work still to do on the issue of violence in schools.

"There's still a long way to go on this journey," Merkel commented.

The government says it will spend about 400 million euros (560 million dollars) by 2014 on improving German language skills among the children of immigrants so they can perform better at school.

It is also seeking to help immigrants get their foreign qualifications recognised in Germany, and to have more people from immigrant backgrounds working in the civil service and in the police force.

Success stories

There were some impressive examples of successes in immigration policy, Merkel said. She cited sport as an example. The 2010 German World Cup team was the most multicultural ever, with a number of players from Turkish and African immigrant families.

Angela Merkel and Maria Boehmer

Merkel and Boehmer have drawn up an action plan

Maria Boehmer is the government minister responsible for the issue of integration. She echoed the chancellor's words, saying that "a lot of ground had been gained" in the last few years. She said there were more positive stories of integration "than had been told in the last few weeks."

Germany has been embroiled in a debate about integration since a prominent member of the board of the state bank, the Bundesbank, sparked outrage in Germany and abroad when he published a book which claimed that Muslims themselves were in part responsible for failing to integrate into German society. He was forced to resign from his post, but the debate simmered on.

Boehmer cited a new national action plan, which should make progress in integration easier to follow, and will complement the current national integration plan. She said that police, care workers and teachers could play a "bridging role" in helping immigrants to integrate.

Some participants, however, criticized the lack of real results at the summit.

Aydan Oezoguz, who is responsible for integration in the opposition SPD parliamentary group, called the action plan a "hotch-potch of measures that had already been agreed on."

The spokesperson on migration policy for the Left party, Sevim Dagdelen, said it was merely a "symbolic summit" that would not change the daily reality for immigrants in Germany.

´The Federal Statistics Office says about 16 million people in Germany come from a "migrant background" - just under 20 percent of the population. Of these, an estimated 4 million are muslim, mostly of Turkish origin.

Author: Joanna Impey (AP, dpa, epd, Reuters)
Editor: Michael Lawton

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