Refugees pose dilemma for Europe

July 29, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- The pale blond girl with the small beautiful face and exhausted eyes looked out from the train window at the people milling on the platform and clutched her worn plush bear more tightly.

People stepped forward from beneath the flag of Bosnia-Herzegovina with its split field of fleur-de-lis and thrust money and candy at her until her hands were full and overflowing. Her eyes remained grave.

The 11-year-old, whose name was Marima, was one of 148 refugees who arrived in Berlin late Monday night after a 25-hour trip from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Her grandfather, gaunt and unshaven and hollow-eyed, spoke of their home lost in a village burnt to the ground in the civil war in the former Yugoslavia.

While he spoke, a young man from a minority rights group held up a sign calling for more help for refugees and an end to the war. Outside on the street police held back a small group of neo-Nazis hooting at the idea of allowing any foreigners into Germany.

So at the Lichtenberg Railroad Station, deep in eastern Berlin, two aspects of the world refugee problem were neatly summarized. There were those who would open their country to refugees and those who reject all foreigners, even refugees. And the "Fluchtlingen" look on bewildered.

Germany has taken the lead in Europe in giving aid to those fleeing the former Yugoslavia. The Bosnian Muslims who arrived Monday night were the last of 5,000 admitted to Germany over the weekend.

Germans have been deeply moved by the plight of the Bosnian refugees. They see battered cities, homeless people and dead and wounded every night on television news. They recall the bloody occupation of Yugoslavia by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Germany already has taken in more than 200,000 Croatian and Bosnian refugees, far more than any other country.

The refugees are distributed among the German states based on population. Leaders in several states have urged the federal government to take in more.

Germany is expected to take the lead in a meeting on the refugee problem today in Geneva. The Germans have all but demanded that other European countries take in more refugees and expand aid to the former Yugoslav republics.

The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees estimates that 2.5 million people have been displaced by the war. Many have been driven out by acts of "ethnic cleansing," a phrase that recalls for Germans their own racial purity laws of the Nazi era. Half a million have fled the ex-Yugoslav republics.

The refugee crisis is generally called the worst in Europe since World War II.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl has urged an agreement on refugee quotas by the European Community. He says offer aid now or pay bitterly later. But he has received little response from the major EC countries.

So far, according to the United Nations, Austria and Hungary have taken in 50,000 each, Sweden 44,000, Switzerland 17,500, Turkey 15,000, Italy 11,000 and the other states of Europe 35,000.

Criticism of EC states, such as Great Britain, France and Spain, which have taken in few or virtually no refugees, has been voiced by German politicians across the spectrum.

Germans complain Spain and Great Britain especially have blocked coordination of aid.

Heide Wieczorek, a leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, calls refusal to give refugees humanitarian aid "a scandal."

At a foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, last week, Germany's Klaus Kinkel was "undiplomatically" furious.

He told British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd that Great Britain's draft of an EC resolution on refugees was "hot air."

But Mr. Kinkel also welcomed Britain's call for a peace conference next month, suggested adding the refugee situation to the agenda and pledged full German support.

Germany also has spent more money on humanitarian aid to the Yugoslav refugees.

The so-called Group of 24 countries, the world's wealthiest 24 nations, have pledged $142 million, but have paid up only about $104 million, a disparity the sometimes undiplomatic Mr. Kinkel complained about in Brussels.

Among those who have paid, Germany has provided $24 million, Italy $16 million, the United States $15 million and France $13 million.

Not everyone in Germany believes it has been generous about refugees. Green Party members in Berlin say that taking in 148 people is not impressive in a city of 3.5 million.

Germany has not, in fact, increased its quota. And while agonizing over Bosnian refugees, the Germans call for speedy deportation of other asylum-seekers whose applications have been turned down.

Sagging economies, unemployment, an influx of economic migrants and rising nationalism have plagued most European nations, including Germany. Germany also has been burdened with the costs of unification and aid to former Communist countries in eastern Europe.

All of these things make accepting refugees from the Yugoslavian republics extremely sensitive politically throughout Europe. Chancellor Kohl asks only that his neighbors take in refugees "for a limited time."

And the focus on the former Yugoslavia sometimes irritates the rest of the world. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, an Egyptian and the first United Nations secretary-general from Africa, lashed out last week at "the rich man's war."

The U.N. voted aid Monday for 1.5 million people who are now starving in Somalia. Another 4.5 million are in danger of starvation. And the U.N. reports 7,500 Somali refugees stagger into Kenya every day. Hardly any find themselves welcomed with either money or food.

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