BERLIN (Reuters) - German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Saturday that immigration is good for the country and politicians must explain better that everyone stands to gain from it, in response to the rise of a new movement opposing an influx of Muslim immigrants.
The number of asylum seekers in Germany, many from Syria, has more than doubled this year to around 200,000, and net immigration is at its highest level in two decades.
Many Germans are concerned about the related costs and worry about refugees taking jobs.
The sudden emergence of grass-roots movement PEGIDA, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, which last week held a 17,500-strong anti-immigrant rally in the eastern city of Dresden, has forced lawmakers to respond.
“The world is more open and immigration helps everyone. Just as we used millions of refugees and expellees after World War Two to rebuild .. so we need immigration today,” Schaeuble told Bild Online when asked about the popularity of PEGIDA.
Immigration has shot up the political agenda in Germany. Some members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc are worried that they risk losing support if they do not respond to peoples’ fears.
Voters have already punished governments in several other European countries, including Britain and Sweden, for failing to address the highly charged issue of immigration.
“Of course we have to live together with immigrants. That will change our day-to-day life but won’t make it worse, but will mostly improve it,” added Schaeuble, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).
Immigration is a particularly sensitive subject in Germany due to its Nazi past. Germany’s asylum rules are among the most liberal in the world.
Schaeuble said politicians must get better at explaining the changes in daily life, and he echoed comments made by President Joachim Gauck this week saying people should not be afraid.
“People are right to fear Islamist terrorism. But not Islam,” he said.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Hugh Lawson