Europe

Migrant crisis: Merkel urges Germans to see 'opportunity'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel records her New Year's speech in the Federal Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, 30 December 2015 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mrs Merkel's pre-recorded speech is to be broadcast on Thursday evening

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to use her New Year's speech to urge Germans to see the influx of refugees as an opportunity for the future.

Warning against support for xenophobic groups, she says "it's important we don't allow ourselves to be divided".

Germany has taken in more than a million asylum seekers this year, far more than any other European country.

Europe's response to the migration crisis has been criticised by the outgoing head of the UN refugee agency.

Antonio Guterres told the BBC that the EU had been and continued to be "totally unprepared" for the arrival of refugees and "unable to put its act together".

Migration to Europe in graphics

Migrants offered 'bad weather discounts'

The migrants reaching Europe by land

More than one million refugees and migrants have reached Europe by sea since the start of 2015, according to the UNHCR. About half are from Syria.

Germany has been the destination of choice for many of those arriving by sea, and it has also attracted large numbers of migrants from Balkan states.

'Hate in their hearts'

In her New Year's address to be broadcast on Thursday evening, Mrs Merkel acknowledges that the past year has been challenging but she repeats a message she has used on several occasions: "Wir schaffen es" - we can do it.

She warns that integrating the new arrivals will take "time, strength and money", according to a pre-released text of the speech recorded on Wednesday.

"I am convinced that if we tackle the huge task posed by the influx and integration of so many people in the right way today, then this will represent an opportunity for us tomorrow."

The chancellor does not specifically mention Pegida, which has held large "anti-Islamisation" rallies in Germany, but urges Germans not to follow "those with coldness, or even hate in their hearts, and who claim the right to be called German for themselves alone and seek to marginalise others".

Image copyright AP
Image caption More than 80% of the one million people who have arrived in Europe by boat this year have landed in Greece

The migrant crisis has strained relations between EU member states, with some countries introducing temporary border controls despite the bloc's principle of passport-free movement.

Criticising the EU's response, Mr Guterres - who is stepping down as UN High Commissioner for Refugees after 10 years - said divisions in Europe meant countries had failed to act.

"For the first time, in meaningful numbers, refugees and other migrants came to Europe - and Europe was totally unprepared for that," he said.

"But not only it was unprepared then, it is still unprepared today. It was unable to put its act together."

Instead, he said, countries had served their own interests - discouraging migrants from entering their borders by introducing increasingly harsh policies.

Some states such as Hungary, Austria and Slovenia have resorted to building fences along their borders to manage the arrivals of thousands of migrants.

Meanwhile, a Danish government proposal to seize assets of asylum-seekers to help fund their stay has drawn sharp criticism.