West Germany Tightening Up on Refugees
Mar. 01, 1989
SCHWALBACH AM TAUNUS, West Germany (AP) _ Faced with a public outcry, West Germany is about to tighten up its liberal asylum law that has attracted refugees from as near as Czechoslovakia and as far away as Sri Lanka.
More than 27,600 asylum-seekers arrived last year at the Schwalbach camp just outside Frankfurt, roughly one quarter of the nationwide total.
And they are still coming at a record pace, despite the controversy surrounding them and charges that many come not in search of freedom from political persecution but for their own economic betterment.
''Germany is good and maybe they will grant me political asylum,'' said a 28-year-old Nigerian standing in the crowded halls of the tidy, modern camp here.
He explained that fighting between Christians and Moslems in his country led him to come.
A 21-year-old Tamil said Indian troops sent to his native Sri Lanka prompted his departure.
Marem Taraky, a 40-year-old teacher from Kabul in Afghanistan said she will stay out of her country ''until peace returns.''
Most of the asylum-seekers arriving at the Frankfurt airport are driven by bus to the camp, which is at the end of a mud-covered road. But some, usually people who arrived with tourist visas, take the subway in Frankfurt to the end of the line and walk the rest of the way.
West German officials say some people cross on foot over West Germany's southern borders.
''Some Poles come here directly with their cars and say, 'Here I am,''' said Volker Moeser, the camp director.
So far this year, the largest number of refugees arriving at the state-run Schwalbach camp have come from Turkey, followed in order by Sri Lanka, Poland, Iran, Afghanistan, India, Ghana, Yugoslavia, Somalia and Lebanon.
Moeser said some of the refugees - mainly the ones who speak some English or German - are aware of the heated political debate surrounding the political asylum issue.
Asylum-seekers throughout the country occasionally are the targets of violence.
On Feb. 14, unknown assailants fire-bombed a home for asylum-seekers in the northern Bavarian town of Memmelsdorf. Damage was minor, and none of the 15 Poles and Hungarians inside were injured.
A similar attack took place at a home for asylum-seekers in nearby Bamberg the following day. About the same time as that attack, five so-called ''skinheads'' picked a fight with an Indian asylum-seeker in the Hesse state town of Schluechtern, injuring the refugee and two skinheads.
While violence still is limited, general dissatisfaction among Germans with the number of asylum-seekers continues to grow after the number hit 103,076 last year.
That was reflected by the surprisingly strong showing by the right-wing extremist Republican Party in West Berlin elections in January. The party ran on a platform calling for expulsion of asylum-seekers as well as foreign workers, whom West Germany welcomed in the early years of its postwar economic boom.
The rising negative sentiment has led Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to set up a committee to work out measures for ''the prevention of massive abuse of the asylum laws.''
Under the current system, anyone who claims that he or she faces persecution back home generally is entitled to seek asylum along with immediate family members.
Kohl says his coalition government is most interested in excluding ''economic asylum seekers,'' people who are mainly interested in escaping poverty back home. Other reported abuses include cases of East Europeans who come in search of asylum but occasionally go back home for visits.
The chancellor promised quick action but did not outline any timetable.
''We're looking into steps that can be taken without a change in the constitution,'' CDU member of parliament Michael Maiworm told reporters in Bonn.
The chairman of the group is Johannes Gerster, a Christian Democratic member of parliament who already has called for hearings on asylum requests within 48 hours of arrival in West Germany. A shortening of the appeals process is also under review.
The Free Democrats, the junior partner in Kohl's coalition, have already signalled a willingness to tighten up the political asylum procedures in this country of 61.3 million people.
While generally less than 10 percent of the asylum-seekers are granted such status, lengthy legal proceedings and other policies often allow the refugees to stay in West Germany almost indefinitely. That includes a ban on sending people back to regions wracked by war or other widespread violence.
As a general rule, the asylum-seekers are barred from working in West Germany for either one year or five years, depending on their status. That means they live at government expense, often lodged in hotels or guest houses.
The Bild am Sonntag newspaper published an article recently claiming that asylum-seekers will cost West Germany $2.8 billion this year.