BERLIN -- Germany has decided to stop giving Soviet Jewish immigrants preferential treatment and plans to deport back to the Soviet Union any who enter the country illegally.
The move is in apparent contradiction of Germany's announcement shortly after unification last year that it would treat "generously" any Jew leaving the Soviet Union.
"It's definite. People either come through legal channels, or they are sent back," an official in the federal Interior Ministry said.
Up to 500 of the 5,000 Soviet Jews who have entered Germany since last June are affected by the decision.
However, the Berlin city government defied a federal order yesterday to deport 269 Soviet Jews who originally emigrated to Israel but came to Berlin during the Persian Gulf war. Federal officials said they had been under "intense" pressure from Israel to send them back there.
The 269 had come to Germany as tourists but then asked to stay because of the war and because they did not like Israel's culture or climate.
"We will try to find some sort of compromise. For now they can stay," said Dieter Heckelmann, Berlin's interior minister.
Because Israel was known to be lobbying for the return of the 269, this issue has not been as controversial as the planned deportation back to the Soviet Union of Jews who have crossed directly into Germany.
Given the high amount of racism reported in the Soviet Union and the killing of 6 million Jews under Nazi Germany's rule, many German organizations believe that any Jew should be given refugee status.
"Aggressive anti-Semitism is taking hold in the Soviet Union. The [German] federal government is called upon to respond quickly," the Christian-Jewish Society said in a report Monday.
German Jewish community leaders declined to comment, but the Berlin Jewish community said that "any decision that restricts the flow of Jews out of a danger zone must be viewed with concern."
About 30,000 Jews now live in Germany, and the new immigrants are seen by many Jewish leaders as a chance to rejuvenate the once-flourishing 500,000-strong community that was destroyed by the Nazis.
The immigration decision actually was made two weeks ago but was only confirmed this week. It took effect May 1 and requires that any Soviet-Jewish immigrant entering Germany after that date have the appropriate immigration documents or be sent back. The rule was proposed by the government and approved by the interior ministers of the 16 German state governments.
The background to the decision is a general strengthening of anti-immigration laws in Germany. A new law on foreigners requires them to have a job and housing or risk being sent back. And on June 30 all injunctions halting the government from sending refugees back to their home countries become invalid.
Last year 193,000 refugees came to Germany, nearly half the Western European total of 400,000. The country's liberal refugee laws allows anyone to apply for refuge. Although only 4 percent of the applicants are finally recognized as legitimate political refugees, 70 percent of the rest are not sent back because they come from "crisis areas" where wars or famine make a return impossible. This means that arriving in Germany is usually enough to guarantee a residency permit of several years.
In an effort to stem this flood and to score political points, the government is generally trying to take a tougher stand on would-be immigrants, refugees and illegal entrants, such as some of the Soviet Jews.
Soviet Jews who want to enter legally may continue to do so, but their arrival may be delayed by months because of Germany's cumbersome and rigid bureaucracy.