West Germans Ask Who Will Pay the Price of Resettlers
FRANKFURT, West Germany (AP) _ The welcome mat for East German immigrants is wearing thin as overcrowded resettlement centers and fears of higher taxes remind West Germans of the cost of hospitality.
Throughout the country, West German politicians are toning down the euphoria over East Germany’s open borders and encouraging resettlers to return home to help rebuild their country.
At least one major conservative politician, Gov. Lothar Spaeth of Baden- Wuerttemburg state, has even suggested East Germans be paid to go home, a strategy used to encourage Turkish guest workers to leave several years ago.
″We helped the Turks return. So why shouldn’t we do the same for these people?″ asked Spaeth, of Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union.
When the mostly young, skilled East Germans began their exodus last fall, West Germans credited them with forcing democratic change in their homeland. But the more than 100,000 who have arrived already this year are increasingly seen as taking advantage of West Germany’s liberal policies.
Under West Germany’s Constitution, they are granted automatic citizenship and are eligible for the same social benefits as West German taxpayers. Impatience with them appears to be on the rise.
The Hamburg-based weekly magazine Stern said in this week’s edition that more than two-thirds of 1,012 West Germans questioned in a recent poll wanted to halt East German resettlement.
In recent weeks, police had to be called to quell fights between drunken East Germans at resettlement centers in Saarland and North Rhine-Westphalia state, Stern said.
North Rhine-Westphalia already has stopped 64 towns from accepting more resettlers because of overcrowding, the magazine said.
Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported Sunday that in the northern port city of Bremen, the local government is refusing to accept more East German resettlers but is continuing to allow asylum seekers from the Third World.
In one Bremen resettlement center, 87 East German men share one toilet, two washing machines, a small table and two chairs, the newspaper said. They sleep in double-deck army cots in a school gymnasium, said the report.
″The gymnasium is not an isolated case,″ the newspaper said. ″About 350 (East) Germans are living in Bremen gymnasiums.″
West Germans complain that East German resettlers are given preferential treatment in social and unemployment pay and are overcrowding the already strapped housing market.
Resettlers who quit work to come to the West are eligible for immediate unemployment pay, which averages about $588 a month.
West Germans who switch jobs must wait 12 weeks to be eligible for unemployment, Stern said.
Each East German also receives a one-time payment of $117 in ″welcome money,″ and East Germans are eligible for low-interest loans of $1,765 to $5,880 to set up households.
The left-leaning Social Democratic Party has said Kohl’s conservative government should try harder to persuade East Germans to remain in their homeland.
″With the reforms there now, there is no reason they should leave,″ said Gov. Oskar Lafontaine of Saarland state, a Social Democrat who is expected to be Kohl’s top challenger for chancellor in December elections.
Estimates of the costs of rebuilding East Germany and putting the two states under a single currency have been as high as $58.8 billion, and there are increased fears that West Germans will pay much of this in higher taxes.
″You know whose going to pay for all this,″ said Frankfurt restaurant owner Peter Blisch. ″We the taxpayers, and it won’t be cheap.″
Alexander Schwerein of the Christian Democrats said a tax increase ″cannot be discounted″ if elections March 18 in East Germany do not result in a stable government.
But Kohl’s chief of staff, Rudolf Seiters, has said that uniting the two Germanys ″can be realized without a tax increase.″