Merkel says Germany must learn from its 'guest worker' mistakes for refugee crisis

BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that Germany needed to learn from its mistakes in dealing with “Gastarbeiter” or guest workers in the post-war period to integrate refugees and asylum seekers from the moment they arrive in the country.

In the decades after World War Two, the then-West Germany encouraged immigration as a way of dealing with labor shortages, but it described those who came from countries like Turkey, Italy and Greece as “Gastarbeiter”, as if they would return to their home countries once the work was done.

Merkel said Germany needed to adopt a different attitude now as it expects a record 800,000 new arrivals this year, attracted by its relatively liberal asylum laws and generous benefits.

“Those who come to us as asylum seekers or as war refugees need our help so they can integrate quickly,” Merkel told the German parliament, adding that it would be necessary to help such people learn German quickly and find a job.

“Many of them will become new citizens of our country. We should learn from the experiences of the ‘60s when we asked Gastarbeiter to come to us and make integration the top priority from the start,” she added.

But Merkel made clear that refugees arriving in Europe’s largest economy in pursuit of a better life rather than to escape persecution or war would have to go back.

“Those who are not fleeing political persecution or war but are coming to us out of economic need will not be able to stay in Germany. However difficult their personal life may be, this is the truth and we don’t shy away from saying that,” she said.

Merkel said Germany needed to speed up the registration of refugees and asylum seekers and send people who do not qualify for asylum back more quickly and consistently.

She also said Germany needed to take a leading role in finding a solution to the refugee crisis in the European Union and added: “If Europe fails on the refugee issue, we’d lose one of the key reasons for founding a united Europe, namely universal human rights.”

She condemned a spate of attacks on refugee shelters, saying they were “abhorrent and disgraceful” and added that the full force of the law would be applied against the perpetrators.

Reporting by Michelle Martin and Caroline Copley; Writing by Michelle Martin. Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.