German Interior Minister to Refugees: Integrate or Leave

Migrants learn German on laptops at a community centre in Dresden, Germany, March 22. The German interior minister is proposing a law that would force such refugees to integrate into society or lose residency rights. Ina Fassbender/Reuters

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said he is planning a new law that will require refugees to learn German and integrate into society, or else lose their permanent right of residence.

The initiative comes after voters punished Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives in regional elections earlier this month, giving a thumbs-down to her open-door refugee policy and turning in droves to the anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Around 1 million migrants arrived in Germany last year - many fleeing conflict and economic hardship in the Middle East and Africa - and de Maiziere said around 100,000 more had arrived so far this year.

Germany expected that in return for language lessons, social benefits and housing, the new arrivals made an effort to integrate, he told ARD television.

"For those who refuse to learn German, for those who refuse to allow their relatives to integrate - for instance women or girls - for those who reject job offers: for them, there cannot be an unlimited settlement permit after three years," he said.

De Maiziere, who belongs to Merkel's conservatives party, added that he wanted "a link between successful integration and the permission for how long one is allowed to stay in Germany."

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel welcomed the draft law, which is planned for May.

"We must not only support integration but demand it," Gabriel told mass-selling daily Bild.

Gabriel's Social Democrats, the junior partner in Germany's ruling coalition with Merkel's conservatives, also suffered losses in this month's elections in three German states.