Stemming the Asylantenflut

THE news that East Germany is to stem the tide of recruited ``refugees'' into West Germany merits a deep sigh of relief. Over the past several months, East-bloc airlines have been advertising heavily in third-world countries for ``refugees,'' who are flown into East Berlin's Sch"onefeld airport -- on tickets paid for in hard currency -- and then bused into West Berlin, where they can seek asylum.

West Germans have become extremely sensitive about the Asylantenflut, or flood of asylum-seekers -- nearly 75,000 of them so far this year. They have seen this ploy as an attempt at ``destabilizing'' West Germany, and more seriously, at forcing a change in the status of West Berlin.

West Germany and the Western powers -- the United States, Britain, and France -- insist that all of Berlin has a special status under the Four-Power Agreement of 1971 and that the Berlin Wall, for all its concrete and barbed-wire ferocity, is not an international frontier. The Western authorities demand no passports or visas of those crossing from East to West. With the Asylantenflut, East Berlin had hoped to force Bonn to recognize the ``Antifascist Bulwark,'' as the wall is known in the East, and require passports.

Instead, Bonn, noting that Sch"onefeld is outside East Berlin and hence the purview of the Four-Power Agreement, had asked that the East Germans require valid West German visas for transit passengers through Sch"onefeld.

Now it appears that East Berlin has agreed to do so; as of Oct. 1, passengers into Sch"onefeld must have visas for their final destinations.

This decision, apparently made without the cash payoffs from Bonn that have so often oiled troubled waters between East and West, does not settle West Germany's immigration questions. But it is surely a welcome reduction of inter-German tensions.

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