Merkel welcomes refugees but insists they integrate in German society

Berlin - Chancellor Angela Merkel tempered Germany's welcome to hundreds of thousands of refugees from war and persecution with a warning on Wednesday that new migrants must integrate into German life.

"They need help to learn German quickly and find work," Merkel said during a debate in the Bundestag parliament where politicians of all parties praised Germany's outpouring of hospitality for newcomers.

The centre-right leader addressed fears among conservative Germans that tensions with migrants could rise as they did when "guest workers" invited from Turkey more than 50 years ago were treated as a temporary presence and given neither language training nor respect.

"We should learn from our experience of the 1960s when we brought in guest workers and should put the highest priority on integration from the very beginning," she said.

"A nation that welcomes the many coming in, many from other cultures, must make clear what rules apply here," she added. "We can't ignore it if communities that reject integration... establish themselves... There won't be any tolerance of that."

Germans have astonished themselves in recent weeks with the fervent support for the migrants.

Even the populist newspaper Bild, Germany's top-selling daily, has swung behind refugees, distributing "we will help" buttons. Merkel's deputy, Sigmar Gabriel, wore one on a lapel in parliament as she spoke.

The Green Party lauded the new mood. "For the first time, I can say without reservation that I am proud of my country," Greens floor leader Katrin Goering-Eckardt told legislators.

In her speech, Merkel vowed to crack down "with the full force of the law" on racists who abused migrants or rioted near refugee hostels.

Among the new attacks was a fire, apparently deliberate, late on Tuesday at Gersheim on the western border in a disused school earmarked to later house refugees. In Berlin, police on night guard stamped out a Bengal Flare firework thrown into the yard of a new hostel.

The chancellor this week announced €6bn in extra spending next year to accommodate asylum seekers. Merkel said Germany could afford this now because of its thrift in the recent past.

Merkel, whose chancellorship has been marked by the emergence of Germany as the paramount European power, said the crisis was Germany's own because "death, terrorism and despair" now reigned just a few hours from Berlin by air.

"These conflicts in Syria and Iraq are not happening in any old place. They are happening at the gates of Europe," she said.

Germany says it expects up to 800 000 to register for asylum this year, but adds it will send home almost all claimants from Balkan nations. Merkel told parliament she knew they were fleeing poverty, but they must leave to make way for those in even direr need.

"Their lives may be hard at the personal level, but this is a fact." she said.

The rejected claimants would be deported speedily after their claims had been individually heard.

Merkel's spokesman said the chancellor would on Thursday visit a Berlin refugee hostel and a classroom of refugee children undergoing a crash course in the German language at a Berlin primary school.

The chancellor implicitly rebuked neighbours such as Hungary that have said they do not want migrants, saying Berlin would not accept anyone setting ceilings on their intake.

"It's not likely we'll achieve a European solution by saying no. If we are courageous and enterprising, we'll get a solution.

"Great as this challenge is, I'm convinced Germany can manage," she said. "If we're not hesitant, but cast around for ideas and are creative, we'll come out of this better off."

Later, the chancellor's spokesman welcomed proposals by EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to redistribute migrants around the EU, saying binding and long-term quotas were required. "Imbalances are not tolerable in the long term," Steffen Seibert said.

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