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Politics

German President Gauck highlights refugees' plight in Christmas speech

The German president has called for more consideration for the plight of refugees. The focus of his annual Christmas speech was influenced by two humanitarian crises in the Mediterranean that made headlines this year.

In his Christmas speech on Tuesday, German President Joachim Gauck focused on the importance of reaching out to those in need. He called on his fellow citizens to remember those who are less fortunate and praised those who already devote their time and energy to volunteer work.

This year, humanitarian crises in Africa and the Middle East dominated headlines. Gauck called attention to Germans' perception of these tragedies and asked them to consider whether they were doing enough to help the thousands of distressed people forced to abandon their home countries.

"There are many reasons why people leave their home: war, hunger, persecution and hardship," President Gauck said in his speech.

"We think about the terrible fate of families from Syria, we think about those are desperate, who dare to [take] the dangerous path to Europe over the sea. We also think about those who come here because they [can] find freedom, justice and security, [something] which is refused to them in their own countries."

This year, Germany agreed to grant asylum to some 10,000 refugees from war-torn Syria. Meanwhile, the politicians and citizens alike were gripped by a series of tragic boat accidents off of the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa this fall in which hundreds of African immigrants died.

While both crises have concerned EU citizens and EU policymakers reluctance to ease immigration restrictions remains high due in part to the economic difficulties eurozone countries continue to battle or fear are still on the horizon.

"Let us not close our hearts [because we realize] that we can't take in everyone who comes here," Gauck said.

Gauck said that immigrants who came to Germany didn't expect to be given a free ride, but that they wanted to "escape persecution and poverty and they want to find the purpose in a fulfilled life."

Recognition of volunteers

The German head of state also addressed the importance of volunteer work in Germany, particularly in a year when heavy flooding caused widespread damage in the country's east.

"You are the great gift to Germany. I thank you for making our land so liveable," Gauck said.

During the summer, flooding swept across eastern Germany damaging properties, infrastructure and the tourism industry. The German government pledged billions in restoration aid.

kms/jm (AFP, dpa)

DW.DE