East Europeans Flooding into East Germany
EAST BERLIN (AP) _ Maj. Harry Kretschmer strolls through a hallway in an East German army barracks filled with squalling children and milling adults.
″Every day there are more. The come here, see the free food and the free housing, and call home. Then more come,″ he says. ″We do not know what to do with them. We are filled to capacity.″
About 700 Romanians and a few hundred Bulgarians have been packed into two barracks at an East German army base on the outskirts of Berlin. Hundreds more are housed in a building once used by East Germany’s feared secret police.
East Germany, reeling from a creaky economy and its own exodus of citizens to West Germany, suddenly finds itself luring other East Europeans whose countries do not have a wealthy neighbor to help them emerge from four decades of Stalinist oppression.
The government said it decided last week to begin housing and feeding the Romanians and Bulgarians who show up daily in train stations with battered bags of belongings, but no money.
Many see East Germany now as the new threshhold of the West, a passageway to prosperity.
″I came here for work and to escape the Communists,″ says Taian Neascu, 19, from Bucharest. ″I want to go to West Germany, and go to America.″
About 3,000 Romanians already have flooded into East Berlin in the last two weeks and another 15,000 have crossed the border into East Germany, said Joachim Krabs, a city social services official.
He said 650 arrived today alone and that about 20,000 Poles also have arrived in recent weeks.
Krabs said the situation was a ″social powder keg″ and called for new laws to limit the flood.
Matthias Jahr, a member of the East Berlin Foreigners Commission, said his office has received numerous requests for asylum from Soviet Jews who want to flee a new wave of anti-Semitism.
The flood of Romanians began in late April, about the time political strife intensified in the country.
Some Romanians believe the revolutionary interim government of acting President Ion Iliescu will not differ substantially from the Communist regime that was overthrown in December.
Scores of Romanians began sleeping and wandering the large train station in Lichtenberg, the huge foreign quarter of East Berlin.
″At first we were ignorant of the problem. Then we found all of these people sleeping in the train station,″ said Hannelora Gensch, an East Berlin housing official who runs the complex at the army base in the Beisdorf district of East Berlin.
Children typically roam subway and train stations, sent by their parents with cards printed in German: ″We are Romanian, please help us with money.″
Many are sick when they arrive, and most are afraid, Mrs. Gensch said.
″We have had to put people in the hospital because of their fear,″ she said. ″The government has to make a decision on what to do with these people.″
The stream comes just as a wave of resentment of foreigners is sweeping East Germany, fueled mainly by fears that the country will face widespread joblessness as it merges with West Germany and converts to a free market.
Violent street clashes between foreigners and East German youth gangs broke out in Lichtenberg a week ago.
One Romanian in the barracks, a 36-year-old man who said he drove a taxi in Constanza, said he left behind three young children when he came to East Berlin five days ago. He said he has no plans to return.
″I cannot tell you my name because it would be bad for my family,″ he said.
Kretschmer said he believes the motives are more economic than political.
Some Romanians at the barracks said they fled because they believed a new crackdown on travel would be imposed after May 20, when Iliescu is widely expected to win the Romanian elections.
Most came here on tourist visas, and some said they still planned to go home. But a bearded coalminer from the city of Resita, who refuses to give his name, says he has no plans to return.
″Iliescu and and Ceausescu are the same,″ he says, referring to the hard- line Romanian leader, Nicolae Ceausescu, who was toppled and executed in December.
Jahr said the government should discuss visa requirements with other East European countries as a way of limiting the flow.
″We don’t want to build a new wall,″ he said.