April 7, 2016 / 9:07 AM / 2 years ago

German president urges swift refugee integration to counter extremism risk

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany must take care to integrate refugees as quickly as possible after they arrive in the country or risk the rise of political and religious extremism, President Joachim Gauck said on Thursday.

Syrian refugees arrive at the camp for refugees and migrants in Friedland, Germany April 4, 2016. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Germany has borne the brunt of Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War Two, with more than one million asylum seekers arriving in the country last year, most fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gauck, a former Christian pastor in communist East Germany, said the experience of other countries had shown that the sooner new arrivals with a realistic chance of staying could learn German and find work, the better for everyone.

“Otherwise, we risk frustration and boredom turning into violence and crime, or that political and religious extremism flourish,” Gauck said in the text of a speech on integration.

As president, Gauck wields little real power but his words carry moral weight in Germany and beyond.

Emphasizing that Germany is “strong and stable”, he said that even if integration changed the country, “it will remain true to itself”.

“We can make a society where what counts is not where one comes from, but who one is and where one is going,” he added.

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by David Goodman

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