Germany: a Door Less Open

May 29, 1993

If there were a Statue of Liberty medal, postwar western Germany would be a frequent winner.

It began taking in "guest workers" in the Fifties, mostly from Turkey and southern Europe, to man the factories that were part of the German economic "miracle." Approximately 6.5 million of these "foreigners," some unto second and third generations, live in the country today. Germany is becoming a "nation of immigrants," a phrase of exquisite torture for Hitler's pure Aryan ghost.

As a gesture of thanks for the refuge granted elsewhere to 70,000 opponents of Nazism, the Bonn government also inscribed in its 1949 basic law the provision that "persons persecuted on political ground shall enjoy the right of asylum." It was, by far, the world's most generous provision of this kind. When the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall came down, Germany suddenly became the destination of choice for persons from Eastern Europe and the Balkans seeking a better life. About 440,000 arrived in 1992 as part of an influx whose care and feeding cost some $10 billion a year.

Finally, Germany has accepted more war refugees -- latterly some 300,000 from the civil wars in former Yugoslavia -- than all other European nations combined.

Now, amid much anguished soul-searching, Germany is starting to have a door less open.

Foreign workers will be admitted if needed once the recession is over. War refugees will still be cared for. So-called "ethnic Germans" from lands to the East will continue to be welcomed, though in restricted numbers.

And then there are the asylum-seekers. Under a new law adopted by the German parliament this week, entry will be denied to persons coming solely for economic reasons from "secure" countries deemed free of political persecution. They will be stopped at the border and sent home rather than permitted into Germany for personal adjudication.

Admittedly, this is a harsh remedy and among its first victims will be Gypsies trying to flee Romania and Kurds facing repression in Turkey.

Every government responds eventually to domestic imperatives. And in Germany's case, the influx of foreigners has become so great in the last three years that it has overburdened taxpayers, the housing supply, public facilities and, most important, a political system already stressed by reunification. Right-wing extremism chiefly aimed at foreigners has been on a rampage. To be sure, neo-Nazis would find other targets if foreigners were not available. But the major political parties -- even the Social Democratic Party -- now see the situation as a threat to German democracy.

Germany would no longer get a hypothetical Statue of Liberty award because of the new law. But it can redeem its international reputation by adopting immigration laws that eliminate excessive restrictions on full citizenship. And, above all, it is more obligated that most nations to be a land where intolerance will not be tolerated.

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