Merkel says Afghans coming to Germany for better life will be sent back

BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that Afghans heading to Germany in pursuit of better economic circumstances will be sent back to Afghanistan and people still there should move to safe zones within their country rather than migrating to Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speak to media at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, December 2, 2015. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Hundreds of thousands of migrants, many fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, have streamed into Germany this year, and German authorities and communities are now buckling under the strain.

Afghans - widely viewed as unwanted economic migrants - formed the sixth largest group of asylum seekers in Europe’s economic powerhouse in the first 10 months of this year.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Berlin, Merkel said Germany would meet its humanitarian obligations for Afghans who are in serious danger because they worked for foreign forces such as the German army.

“But where refugees come hoping for a better life - and I know that this hope is big for many - that is no reason to get asylum status or residency status here,” she said, adding that in such cases people would be deported back home.

Merkel said the training Germany provides for police officers in Afghanistan would be expanded to include lessons on combating smugglers, illegal immigration and passport forgery.

Almost 21,000 Afghans arrived in Germany between January and October - up from just under 8,000 in the same period last year. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has previously said that Afghans should “stay in their country”.

To that end, Merkel talked about creating “protected zones” within Afghanistan so that people living in unsafe areas can move within their country to another region that offers sufficient security, instead of heading to Europe.

People would need to be offered prospects such as living space and vocational training in these zones, she said.

Ghani agreed, saying that it was necessary to tackle the root causes of migration - namely instability and poverty.

Merkel stressed there was false information circulating in Afghanistan about migration to Germany and said the embassy was taking measures to ensure people knew the rumors were not true.

Ghani said Afghans fleeing to Europe spent $20,000-$25,000 each and added that for each one who reached their destination safely, between four and 10 lost everything on their way.

“We need to ... make sure that everybody understands the streets are not paved with gold,” he said.

For months Germany has been using local media in Afghanistan and other countries to dispel the rumors that Europe’s largest economy has its doors wide open to everyone.

Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Noah Barkin/Mark Heinrich