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Germany's Half-Step

December 10, 1992



GERMANY'S proposed new law on asylum may relieve some of the political pressures building within that country, but it won't solve the so-called "foreigner problem."

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Without question, Germany has been hit hardest by the refugee crisis. Nearly a half-million migrants have landed in Germany over the past year, compared with 30,000 or so in the country with the next largest number, Sweden. Germany's welfare system, already stretched to care for unemployed former East Germans, has been heavily taxed by these newcomers. German law requires that people seeking asylum be supported by the state, pending resolution of their cases.

Beyond financial strains, the foreign population has become a target for neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists. Militant nationalists seemed to be pulling political support away from the mainstream parties, though that trend may have been halted by the public outrage following recent acts of terror.

Still, the proposed new law is a compromise that puts both the governing Christian Democratic Union and the opposition Social Democrats on the side of shutting Germany's open door. The law will bar those coming from, or via, countries designated "safe."

In practice, matters won't be that easy. Refugees, political or economic, will continue to flee westward. The "safety" of home countries is clearly debatable. Romania, for example, is hardly hospitable to fleeing Gypsies. Illegal entrants, already numerous, are likely to proliferate.

One longtime observer of German politics likened the new asylum law to American attempts to "solve" the deficit problem by passing a balanced-budget amendment - a symbolic gesture that will leave the hard decisions unmade.

So what should be done? Continuation of the tough measures now being taken against rightist terror. Beefing up of Germany's capacity to process applications for asylum. But most important, Germany - in concert with a unifying Western Europe - must come up with a genuine immigration policy.

Such a policy would provide an orderly means of allowing in people who want to live and work in Germany, and perhaps become citizens.

Immigration quotas, as used in the US, may be one answer. Citizenship based on more than ethnic blood ties is another.

Minus such a policy, those who want to enter Germany have only the refugee route, and a legalistic attempt to choke off that route won't deter them.