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German officials laud new integration law as 'historic step'

Angela Merkel and her colleagues have touted Germany's first-ever integration law. The new legislation is seen partly as a response to the growing concern over home-grown terrorism in Europe.

The governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD) on Thursday hailed the new draft integration law agreed upon in Berlin earlier that day, with Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel calling it a "historical step" in the regulation of migrants arriving in Germany.

Members of the three coalition partners

spent hours discussing the first draft of the law

, which will be formally voted on during a closed-door meeting on May 24. It's a response to the wave of predominantly Muslim refugees, most of them from the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, who have been arriving in Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel also hailed the legislation, describing it as "an offer that carries certain duties with it."

Pressekonferenz Angela Merkel mit Sigmar Gabriel und Horst Seehofer

Members of the CDU, CSU and SPD participated in a press conference following their meeting

Requirements and support

The draft law puts heavy emphasis on refugees' participating in the workforce, although migrants without any intention to stay permanently in Germany will not be allowed to take part in the proposed work program.

One of the quirks of the proposal is the creation of "one-euro jobs," in which refugees can work for a low wage (between 1 euro and 2.50 ($1.13-2.80) without it impacting their asylum support.

Additionally, the legislation also proposes to provide easier financial support for new arrivals, lift the age limit for training schemes and shorten the necessary time to wait to enroll in integration courses.

Legislation draws criticism

On the other hand, the legislation also puts pressure on refugees to integrate by enacting penalties for those who don't particpate in the integration courses or make an effort to learn German.

The last point was criticized non-profit organization Pro Asyl on Thursday.

Penalizing people for not participating in integration courses incorrectly "encourages the prejudice that refugees don't want to integrate," Pro Asyl head Günter Burkhardt said, adding that the lack of courses was the real problem.

Integration has been the subject of an ongoing debate in Germany, where Turks - many of whom came to the country as so-called "guest workers" in the 1960s and 1970s - form the largest ethnic minority. Some have criticized the apparent inability or willingness of Muslim migrants to integrate, with even Merkel declaring in 2010 that multiculturalism had "utterly failed." Meanwhile, the some have also pointed out the low education levels of many of the refugees living in Germany, pushing the government to enact new measures to help them compete in the work force.

blc/kms (Reuters, dpa)

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