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Germany

German States Back Iraqi Refugee Plan

Germany's state interior ministers have given their backing to German interior minister Wolfgang Schaeuble's plans to accept up to 2,500 Iraqi Christian refugees in the framework of a European Union agreement.

Iraqi refugee, tent in background, EU symbol in background

EU interior ministers will discuss the refugee plan next week

This comes on the same day as the UN's Special Commissioner for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, expressed his concern about the situation of Iraqi Christians in Iraq in talks with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. De Mistura said a further exodus had to be stopped and called upon Germany and other EU countries to urge Baghdad to give more protection to the minority grouping.

Brandenburg Interior Minister Joerg Schoenbohm (CDU), who is Chairman of the Conference of Interior Ministers meeting in Potsdam, said Friday (Nov. 21) that Europe had to help Christians who were not able to return to Iraq.

Drawing on statistics cited by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Schaeuble said 3 to 3.5 percent of the two million or so Iraqi refugees could not be expected to return home. He said some 10,000 Iraqi Christians could find refuge in Europe, and that Germany was prepared to take in up to 25 percent of them. The majority are due to go to Canada or the United States.

Germany is thinking long-term

Iraqi refugee sitting in a classroom with German dictionary on desk

The refugees would attend language classes to aid integration

Hessen's Interior Minister Volker Bouffier (CDU) stressed that the process foresaw long-term resettlement of the refugees and that they would be expected to take part in a three-month integration course, which would also involve language teaching.

Bouffier stressed that non-Christians would not be automatically ruled out.

"If help is needed because of misery and adversity, then we would like to look after the Christians in particular." But he said that didn't mean rejecting people in the same difficulties.

Berlin's Interior Minister Ehrhart Koerting (SPD) said the refugees would initially be given three-year residence permits. These could be renewed and lead eventually to German citizenship.

German states responding to UNHCR appeal

Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees

The UNHCR has appealed to Europe to accept Iraqi refugees

The UNHCR made an appeal earlier this week to German states to accept Iraqi refugees. In an exclusive interview with Deutsche Welle, Stefan Teloeken, a spokesman for UNHCR Germany, said a small fraction of the two million refugees sheltering in countries neighboring Iraq were neither able to return home nor to integrate into their host countries.

"For these people we have to find third countries," he said on Thursday. "There is a program set up to this end and we hope that many countries will join this program.

"Germany could be a country that takes in Iraqi refugees that are particularly in need of protection. You know that there is a tradition of taking in Iraqi refugees here in Germany. There are a lot of asylum seekers here and a lot of Iraqis who have found protection here and are living as refugees in Germany."

EU interior ministers are due to discuss the issue next week. Schaeuble expressed hope that an agreement could be reached, but he also said the acceptance of refugees would be voluntary.

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