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German conservative leader accuses Ukrainian refugees of ‘social tourism’ – POLITICO

BERLIN — German opposition leader Friedrich Merz has accused Ukrainian refugees of taking advantage of Germany’s welfare system by seeking protection in the country, collecting benefits and then returning to Ukraine.

“What we are seeing is social tourism from these refugees to Germany, to Ukraine, to Germany, to Ukraine,” said Merz, the leader of the Christian Democrats of center-right (CDU), to Bild TV in an interview, adding that “a large number” of the more than 1.1 million registered Ukrainian refugees in Germany were treated by the state. “We have a problem here that is getting worse.”

The German government has no statistics showing whether and to what extent the abuses alleged by Merz actually occur.

Merz, who took over the party last year after losing control of the chancellery for the first time in 16 years, said it was ‘unfair’ for the state to pay to heat the homes of refugees and benefit recipients social Germans at a time when many working-class Germans cannot pay their energy bills.

“It’s unfair and people are right to see it as unfair,” he said.

Merz’s comments come as Germans are increasingly concerned about the impact of the war in Ukraine on their economy and, in particular, energy prices. The country is preparing for a harsh winter amid soaring gas prices, which are expected to at least double for many households. About half of German households heat their homes with gas.

The populist tone of Merz’s remarks, more in tune with the rhetoric of the pro-Russian Alternative for Germany party, marks a turning point for his center-right party, which has previously backed government efforts to support Ukrainians fleeing the war. With public frustration over the government’s handling of the looming energy crisis, Merz seems to see a political opportunity to target refugees.

The so-called Union, a center-right alliance between Merz’s CDU and its Bavarian sister party, has an 8-point lead in the polls according to POLITICO’s poll.

When asked if Germany’s refugee policies needed to be tougher, Merz said the government’s entire migration system was “incoherent” and he called for “hard limits” on the number of refugees. new arrivals.

“Instead, the federal government encourages everyone who wants to come to Germany to come here,” he said.

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