Germany shuts asylum door today New law bars most entrants

July 01, 1993|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Staff Writer

CERVENY UJEZD, Czech Republic -- The cocky Russian at the refugee center here offered his ironic analysis of the new German asylum law that comes into effect today.

"The Germans give [people seeking asylum] back to the Czech Republic," Valery Krasnikov says. "The Czech Republic gives them to Slovakia. Slovakia gives them to Hungary, Hungary to Romania and Bulgaria. Then they come back."

Germany virtually closes its borders to asylum-seekers today, after decades of opening them to practically any comer at least long enough to hear the case, which could take years.

The economy is in trouble. Foreigners are the target of German resentment. So beginning today Germany will no longer accept refugees from countries deemed "safe," that is, free from repression. Germany has certified as "safe" a variety of nations, including Bulgaria, Romania, Ghana, Gambia, Senegal, Zaire, Hungary and Slovakia.

Political refugees who try to enter Germany through a safe country will be turned back at the border. All of Germany's neighbors are deemed secure, including the Czech Republic and Poland, the countries from which most asylum seekers have arrived by the thousands since the collapse of communism.

"We won't let them enter," says Volker Amler, a spokesman for the federal border police headquarters, during a news briefing at Frankfurt an der Oder, the biggest transit point on the Polish border.

"We will hand them over to the Polish border police," Mr. Amler says.

To combat illegal immigrants, troop strength has been doubled, ground and river patrols increased, radar and infra-red technology introduced, helicopters placed on call, 200 guard dogs put in service.

"But," says Mr. Amler, "the best thief always finds a new way to crack the safe."

Mr. Krasnikov, who is 32 and from Novosibirsk, Siberia, says with considerable truth that the only way to enter Germany legally now from Moscow is to buy an Aeroflot or Lufthansa ticket and fly into Frankfurt am Main.

"But that's impossible," he says.

You'd need a special visa from the German Embassy in Moscow, and that's virtually impossible to get.

In fact, "detention centers" will be set up at Frankfurt am Main and at airports in three other cities. They'll hold immigrants denied asylum until they can be sent back. About 10 people a day ask for asylum at Frankfurt am Main.

Transit housing is nearly finished at Schonefeld air field at Berlin, where return flights to Romania and Bulgaria have become routine. Deportations have been easy. No one has ever resisted, border guards say.

"We are always surprised," says Heinz Heldmann, another border police official. "They shake our hands."

Many border guards express sympathy for asylum seekers, who are often victimized by guides called "schleppers," who charge large amounts. They bring refugees to the bank of the Oder River at night here, point to the lights across the river and say, "That's Germany." And vanish.

Here in the Czech Republic, Mr. Krasnikov has been granted asylum, but he acknowledges that he's seeking a better life for himself, his wife and his son.

"I am a professionally trained economist," he says. "Unfortunately I am a Marxist economist. What can I do now in the Czech Republic?

"I will work," says the supremely confident Mr. Krasnikov. "I will work 10 hours in one day. I will get qualification as a Czech economist."

He is not unique at this center set on a pine-wooded hilltop about a dozen miles south of the German border in a former Soviet Army missile site.

Among the 316 refugees here are a neurosurgeon, a newspaper editor and a football player. About 200 have fled from Armenia; the rest come from such places as Vietnam, Afghanistan and Ghana. Most would like to go to Germany.

"Everybody likes Germany," says Mr. Krasnikov. "There's money there."

He doesn't think the Czech government has made a sharp distinction between political, economic or humanitarian refugees.

The new law in Germany finesses the distinction, by virtually eliminating the possibility of entering the country.

Passed two months ago, the new law erases the generous asylum provision written into Germany's 1949 constitution in the wake of the Nazi persecution of Jews and political opponents.

Virtually anyone who could pronounce the word "asylum" was allowed entrance into Germany and granted a hearing. Resolution of asylum cases routinely took years.

Ironically, border police say only 3 percent to 5 percent of persons crossing German frontiers claim asylum. Fewer than 5 percent of the claimants are finally granted asylum.

Most of the 6 million to 6.5 million foreigners in Germany are invited "guest workers," and their families. They were brought in when there was a labor shortage in the postwar economic boom.

Now there is recession and millions of unemployed people. German states and cities have complained of the cost of supporting asylum centers. The "asylum question" routinely surfaces as one of the main concerns of German voters.

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