The seven Afghan football players who landed at Frankfurt airport March 26 are only the latest in a long line of asylum-seekers in West Germany. And thereby hangs a controversy.
The arguments do not swirl around the heads of the seven Afghans, who presumably will be able to find fame and glory along with the English, Japanese, and other stars among the two foreigners allowed each Federal League soccer team in this country.
West Germans accept the Afghans' request for political asylum as legitimate. (And they note the irony of risking their lives to avoid playing a "friendship match" in the Soviet Union at the same time that many Western athletes are rushing to the Moscow Olympics despite their governments' boycott policy over the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.)
The feuding concerns instead the growing thousands of asylum-seekers whom many Germans suspect of looking for a better standard of living rather than political freedom here.They come from Turkey (35 percent of the 1980 newcomers), Pakistan and India (15 percent), Eritrea in Ethiopia, Zaire, and numerous other third-world countries.
(East Germans and the ethnic Germans who emigrate here from the Soviet Union, Poland, and other Eastern European countries do not count in this category, since they are automatically considered to be West German citizens as soon as they arrive.)
Some 100,000 asylum-seekers are projected for this year. Some 50,000 from the third world alone came last year. The influx is raising problems that were not dreamed of when the guarantee of asylum was written into the West German Constitution three decades ago. At that time, the main thought was that Germany , which under Hitler had produced so many political refugees, must in atonement become a haven for political refugees from other countries.
It was not anticipated, however, that West Germany's economic success would turn it into a magnet for the poor of other lands, or that professional dealers in human lives would promise prosperity to would-be immigrants, take their life savings in return for transportation to West Germany, and then dump them here penniless -- with or without coaching about what to say to asylum interviewers.
The rules are clear enough. Anyone who is being persecuted at home politically is eligible for asylum in West Germany. Anyone who is just looking for a decent job, no matter how heart-rending his history, is not.
Those who risk jail or harassment for their political views at home -- like the Afghans -- are given an unlimited residence and work permit and regular welfare payments for as long as necessary.
Those who only risk unemployment at home and honestly say so -- such as the Turkish fruit and vegetable vendor who told his interviewer that he didn't know what "asylum" means and came simply because friends told him that "life in Germany is better" -- are deported.
Those who only risk unemployment at home but do not say so get a provisional "toleration certificate" to live in the sponsoring city for two months, plus 1, 140 deutsche marks ($600) a month for food and lodging -- and, often, additional welfare payments and 6 1/2 years to stay in the country while they fight any rejection for asylum through the courts.
Only some 10 percent of applicants were accepted in 1979 in the initial screening by the jurist and two lay assessors of the Federal Office for the Recognition of Refugees. But even the rejected applicants got an 18-month reprieve while this panel worked through its backlog.
And 80 percent of those who were turned down appealed their rejection -- a process that usually takes an additional five years (and so far has reversed the rejections in some 14 percent of cases).
Even the pressure of the 120,000 granted asylum prior to 1979, last year's 50 ,000 applicants, and this year's expected 100,000 applicants might not seem too great in a prosperous population of 60 million. But if the numbers continue to double every year, they could get out of hand -- and already the financial and social burden is borne disproportionately.
The cities of West Berlin, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Dusseldorf have been especially inundated -- so much so that West Berlin took to flying ineligible Pakistanis back to Pakistan at city expense in 1978.
The conservative opposition Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union now want to set stricter limits on the number of political refugees permitted to stay in West Germany. The Social Democratic-Liberal coalition wants instead to stem the flow by agreements with Turkish and other governments.
A special working group is drawing up recommendations to be presented next summer for ways to cut abuse of the right of asylum.