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Germany's Merkel denies change of course on refugees

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says great progress has been made in addressing the refugee situation in Germany. She also warned Germans "not to forget history."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended her refugees polices as "coherent" in remarks published on Saturday.

Merkel told the "Sächsische Zeitung" newspaper that there was no need to change course and that she had not done so.

"I do not see a change of course, but coherent work over many, many months," Merkel told the paper.

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"I have always been concerned with improving the protection of the EU's external border and fighting the things that cause people to flee, thus bringing about a reduction in the number of refugees," she said.

Merkel admitted that it had been necessary to learn that Europe's outer borders must be protected if one wanted to remain liberal within Europe. She also said that Germany had had to work on regulating the processes involved in coping with the arrival of refugees in the country.

"Our goal is to avoid a repetition of a situation like the one last year, and we have in fact made great progress in the past 12 months," she said.

Merkel has frequently come under fire for her refugee polices, which critics, including some in her own party, have described as too liberal. Criticism has continued despite the fact that the number of refugees coming to Germany this year has been drastically reduced, among other things by a pact between Brussels and Ankara that is seeing many migrants returned to Turkey in return for financial assistance and other concessions.

'Speed up deportations'

The chancellor said it was now important to speed up the deportation of non-German nationals who had no residency permit for Germany.

"This has to be put into practice more rigorously," she said. "And because we have a humanitarian responsibility toward those seeking protection in Europe from war and terrorism, we must agree on legal quotas to distribute them among EU member states," she added.

Merkel's comment comes as Hungary prepares to vote in a referendum on whether the EU should be able to impose such a quota on a sovereign member state.

But the head of Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), Frank-Jürgen Weise, on Saturday also called on EU states to give more assistance in taking in refugees.

"All of them can't come to Germany," he told the "Nordwest-Zeitung": "Europe must deal with this task together."

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere on Friday corrected estimates of refugee numbers

in Germany last year downward, saying only some 890,000 came to the country in 2015 instead of the widely reported figure of 1.1 million.

Frank-Jürgen Weise in Berlin (picture-alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka)

Weise's calls for more help might fall on deaf ears

'All are the people'

In further comments on Saturday, Merkel warned Germans against forgetting the lessons of history, saying it was imperative to take action when people with a far-right background called "We are the people."

The slogan came to prominence during peaceful demonstrations in former East Germany leading to the reunification of Germany 26 years ago.

Speaking in a video message, she criticized the use of the phrase by the far right and those who felt disadvantaged by society or politicians, saying that in a free society it should rather be "All are the people." She praised the reaction of the eastern German state of Saxony - which has the highest per capita number of racist and far-right attacks in the Germany - in calling on such people to come up with constructive proposals for solutions.

"That is lived democracy," she said.

Over the past couple of years, Saxony, and particularly its capital, Dresden, have become the symbol of a new right-wing populist and nationalist movement, notably through the "anti-Islamization" group Pegida.

Pegida demonstration in Dresdent (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Burgi)

Pegida has held a number of demonstrations in Dresden

tj/rc (KNA, dpa, Reuters, epd)