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History

German president commemorates East German refugee site

Germany's first and most important refugee center for asylum seekers from the East was opened 60 years ago. To mark the occasion, President Joachim Gauck praised efforts that allowed many to live in a free society.

In southern Berlin, people gathered to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Marienfelde asylum center on Sunday. German President Joachim Gauck joined local politicians and former refugees in a formal ceremony to honor the center for its work and its value as a symbol for humanity.

"The people who came [here] were the ones who didn't want to - and couldn't - have their lives dictated to them," German President Gauck said on Sunday during a speech at the site in southern Berlin.

The "Gate to Freedom" opened 60 years ago

Then President Theodor Heuss opened the emergency camp in the southern Berlin district of Marienfelde in 1953, when thousands were crossing the border daily. From that time until the fall of the Berlin Wall, some 1.35 million people from communist East Germany, as well as immigrants from Eastern Europe, fled into the West through the gates of Marienfelde.

Refugees who crossed through the "Gate to Freedom" complex underwent a process that gave them a residency permit for West Germany.

"We can only be proud of what the state provided in terms of managing integration," Gauck said, referring to the former West German government.

Germany should rethink refugees

The German president called Marienfelde a symbol of what people do to lead self-determined lives in a free society and a reminder to Germany of its own history with migration, drawing a direct comparison to refugees today fleeing from violence and oppression.

"Let us meet those who come to us with humanity and common sense," said Gauck, warning that Germany must not forget the importance of providing safe haven for asylum seekers. "Instead of thinking of how to fend off refugees, [we] should rather ask, what they can do and where they could pose a possible advantage for both sides."

The number of foreigners residing in Germany has been growing in recent years due to the eurozone crisis, as well as the introduction of laws that allowed the free movement of workers from newer EU countries in Germany.

At the end of 2011, the number of foreigners residing in Germany reached nearly 7 million according to the Federal Office Statistics Office (Destatis). The number of those from comparatively recent EU member countries jumped almost 13 percent from 2010 to 2011.

kms/msh (dpa, epd)

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