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Parliament Takes First Step Toward Closing Borders To Asylum-Seekers

January 21, 1993

BONN, Germany (AP) _ Parliament took its first step Thursday toward closing Germany’s borders to unwanted refugees. A U.N. refugee official said the move ultimately could destroy the international asylum system.

The bill to water down Germany’s liberal asylum laws had its first reading in the Bundestag, the lower house of Parliament. It was drawn up by the major political parties, and its passage by Parliament is expected within weeks.

The new legislation would alter the 1949 constitution, which has allowed almost anyone to receive asylum, partly in atonement for the Nazi’s persecution of foreigners.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s government pressed hard for the revision because a huge influx of refugees - a record 440,000 last year - has strained social welfare funds and fueled neo-Nazi attacks against foreigners.

There were more than 2,100 radical rightist attacks in 1992, and 17 people, including Germans and foreigners, were killed.

The constitution now permits asylum-seekers to remain in the country until their cases are decided, including an appeals process that can drag on for years. During that time the state pays to care for the refugees.

Under the proposed change, the right to asylum would be guaranteed only if a refugee faces political persecution at home. Others would be turned back at the border.

Parliament will decide which nations are free of political persecution.

Politicians of the governing-coalition praised the bill. Members of the main opposition Social Democrats accepted it with resignation.

The leftist party had long opposed it but acquiesced in hopes that the curbs will lessen xenophobia.

But novelist Guenter Grass quit the party in protest, and a minority of Social Democrats will probably oppose the bill when it comes to a vote.

″This asylum compromise makes me furious. It is a rotten, dishonorable compromise,″ said Konrad Weiss, a member of Alliance 90, a small party founded by former East German dissidents.

Walter Koisser, the German representative for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said other countries might follow Germany’s lead and tighten their asylum laws.

″Substantial improvements″ are needed in the bill to prevent a ″domino effect leading to a breakdown of the international asylum system,″ Koisser said.

He suggested in a news release that instead of turning back refugees at the border, Germany should introduce an ″efficient examination procedure″ to determine which refugees lack sufficient grounds for seeking asylum.

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