Limiting German refugee intake not unethical, president says

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Germany cannot take in all the asylum seekers who want to begin a new life there and it is not unethical of Berlin to limit the influx, President Joachim Gauck said on Wednesday, pressing other European countries to share the burden.

German President Joachim Gauck attends the session "Hoping for Prosperity: Reflections on Flight and Migration to Europe" during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

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.

Many German local authorities say they are struggling to cope with the influx and pressure is mounting on Chancellor Angela Merkel to reverse her open-door policy and even close the country’s borders to new arrivals.

Gauck, a former Christian pastor in communist East Germany, did not advocate such drastic action but said a policy of limiting the inflow of refugees could be morally and politically necessary to allow the state to cope.

“Restrictions are not per se unethical,” he told the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Restrictions help to support acceptance. But without acceptance a society is not open and receptive.”

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

Merkel’s insistence that Germany will cope with the influx of 1.1 million migrants last year and more this year has angered some local authorities struggling to house people.

Merkel has vowed to “measurably reduce” arrivals this year, but has refused to introduce a cap, saying it would be impossible to enforce without closing German borders.

Instead, she has tried to convince other European countries to take in quotas of refugees, pushed for reception centers to be built on Europe’s external borders and has led an EU campaign to convince Turkey, a major transit country, to prevent refugees from entering the bloc. But progress has been slow.

Gauck recognized the concerns of eastern European countries about their sovereignty and identity in the face of the influx of refugees, many of whom are Muslim, but said he did not believe a revival of nationalism could provide an answer.

“Do we really want the great historical work that has brought Europe peace and prosperity to break down over the refugee issue?” he asked. “Nobody, really nobody can want that.”

Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Michael Nienaber and Gareth Jones