German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday launched a drive to find ways of better integrating immigrants in the European Union's most populous country.
Merkel met with representatives of various immigrant communities
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday said immigrants should be prepared to work to fit into German society and gave her government a year to find ways to right a widely perceived lack of integration.
"Those who want to live among us must accept that this will
involve a certain amount of effort," the chancellor told a one-day national conference on integration in Berlin. The meeting include 85 invited guests, including representatives of immigrant groups, national, regional sports and business officials.
Encouraging immigrants, rather than new rules
Germany is finally coming to grips with its multi-ethnic society
The meeting came two months after Germany's 16 states decided to make foreigners pass language tests to qualify for German nationality amid concern that existing policies had failed to create a cohesive multi-cultural society.
But Merkel said Friday's meeting was more about ways to
encourage foreigners to learn the language and the culture of their new home than about imposing new rules.
"We discussed ideas like adding Turkish subtitles to German
movies to help those who have not quite mastered the language, and to enroll children in kindergartens so that they can learn at a young age," the chancellor said.
Her minister delegate for integration, Maria Böhmer, this week proposed giving immigrant families free access to pre-school child care to allow their offspring to learn German before they start school.
A report published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in May noted that the school results of children from immigrant families in Germany were poorer than in most industrialised nations.
The findings and outbreaks of violence in schools in areas with high immigrant populations fueled a debate about whether Germany had an alienated immigrant youth population capable of the strife seen late last year in French suburbs.
Merkel in no hurry
Merkel said she would not be rushed on finding a new policy
framework for the country with its 15 million citizens of foreign origin.
"There is no point in putting ourselves under pressure. We can take one more year and come up with a workable strategy," the chancellor told reporters.
The conference was billed as the first of several such meetings and brought together politicians, leaders of immigrant populations, businessmen and trade unionists.
Merkel hailed it as a "historic event."
Labor Minister Franz Müntefering said the business world was invited to give its input as job creation was considered a vital part of integration.
"Every job (filled by an immigrant) is a practical example of
integration," he said.
The conference was welcomed by Kenan Kolat, the leader of
Germany's Turkish community, which is the biggest outside Turkey. "For once the political class is speaking to immigrants instead of speaking about integration," he said.
Opposition remains skeptical
But, opposition parties in government are skeptical that the integration efforts will lead to anything concrete, and Germany's Islamic Council and the Central Council of Muslims have complained that they were not invited to the summit.
The government estimates that 15 million people living in Germany, which has a total population of 82 million, have an immigrant background of some kind -- either with roots outside the country or as ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union.