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Gauck meets refugees on Maltese visit

Germany's president has paid a visit to a camp for migrants during his official visit in Malta. Echoing the words of EU Commissioner Juncker, Gauck has also voiced his support for a more humane migration policy.

"To protect not only the borders of Europe, but also the human lives on these borders - that must be the goal of any truly European refugee policy," said German President Joachim Gauck on Thursday, who has made the fate of migrants a major point on his agenda as Germany's parliament begins to mull voting him into a second term.

Gauck's comments came after he had toured a home for refugees near the Maltese capital of Valletta, which houses people from Syria, Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan. Malta's position in the Mediterranean Sea makes it, along with Italy and Greece, a key jumping-off point for prospective migrants to Europe.

Officially, refugees are only meant to be housed there for a maximum of 18 months, but many of the people Gauck met had been there for years, losing hope of release or perspectives for the future.

However, Gauck insisted that he had not come to "give grades like in school" on Malta's migration policies, although the smallest EU nation has been on receiving end of considerable international criticism on this very topic. Instead, the president took a Europe-wide approach in his call for a new kind of politics in the wake of the most recent disaster in the Mediterranean which claimed at least 800 lives. Indeed, while Malta saw an influx of 568 refugees in 2014, according to the UN Refugee Agency, Italy received 170,000.

Gauck, Juncker call for change

Gauck said a "change of mentality" towards migrants was in order, saying it was a duty of Europeans to "respect the human rights" of people who sought safety from war and oppression on their shores.

On Wednesday, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU Commission, called for an overhaul of the system which currently leaves countries of arrival in charge of the migrants, unfairly weighing on a select few countries within the 28-member bloc. Juncker's plan would see the introduction of quotas, distributing arriving refugees throughout member states.

On the visit to Malta, Gauck was questioned over his ambitions to seek a second term in 2017. Though the president has kept silent on the matter, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has already said he supports a second term for the increasingly vocal head of state - who riled Turkish allies last week by calling the mass murder of Armenians in 1915 at the hands of Ottoman Turks "genocide."

es/jil (dpa, epd)

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