EAST BERLIN (AP) _ East Germans cut off from the world by four decades of Stalinist rule now find the world rushing to them, and the deluge is severely straining the nation, officials said Monday.
East Berlin and East German officials held a news conference to outline what they said has been a flood of impoverished foreigners lured to East Germany because of its imminent economic unification with West Germany.
East Europeans are flooding East Germany at a rate of 500 a day, and tens of thousands have arrived in recent weeks to seek work in a land of rising joblessness, the officials said.
″If quick regulations for the integration of foreigners are not created, the problem will become a social powderkeg,″ said Joachim Krabs, an East Berlin social services official.
About 18,000 East Europeans, most of them Romanians and Bulgarians, have entered the country since late April. About 20,000 Poles also have applied for citizenship in recent weeks, and several thousand Italians have entered the country.
About 650 East Europeans arrived on Monday morning alone at the train station in the East Berlin district of Lichetenberg.
″We no longer know how we can control this enormous influx,″ said Gerhard Kielmann, a Foreign Ministry official. ″Most of them are fleeing their poor economic situation in their homeland.″
Lichetenberg has become a way station for East Europeans entering the country on tourist visas. Hundreds wander the area with their belongings. Children beg for money and scores of families often sleep in the station.
Krabs said about 600 Romanians and other East Europeans live in the train station.
″The hygiene situation has taken on catastrophic proportions,″ he said. He said many are carrying infectious diseases.
About 1,100 other East Europeans, most of them Romanians and some Bulgarians, have been housed for the last week at an army barracks on a base on the outskirts of Berlin. Another 300 are housed in another building.
An estimated 15,000 have crossed the border and were believed heading for East Berlin, the officials said.
They said about 80 percent of the newcomers from Eastern Europe are gypsies. The number of refugees is now averaging about 500 a day.
East Germany’s sudden attraction is, in a way, a result of the mass flight of 500,000 East Germans to West Germany in the past year.
Many were fleeing the former socialist government that was toppled in October, but the exodus continued after the country’s borders were opened in November.
The flight of East Germans contributed to East Germany’s economic problems and the push to unify the nation with West Germany.
The West German currency is to be circulated in East Germany on July 2 as part of a merger of the nations’ economies and social systems.
East Germany, however, is expected to face widespread unemployment as scores of factories are closed down when they are forced to compete in a free market.
Unemployment already has begun rising as East German consumers get more access to better Western goods.
The tensions over joblessness have led to clashes between foreigners and East Germans in factories and on the streets in recent weeks.
A melee broke out in Lichtenberg a week ago when gangs of foreigners and young East Germans squared off outside a discotheque.
East Germany is home to tens of thousands of Vietnamese, Cubans and Mozambicans brought in by the former Communist government to fill menial jobs.
East Germany has no system for dealing with asylum seekers. A government working group has been trying to arrange lodging and other aid for foreigners.
Mario Sander, the federal government’s deputy commissioner for foreigner questions, said that within days a ″charitable structure″ must be created for dealing with the foreigners’ housing and food needs.