THE East German government has a new problem - what to do with thousands of Romanian refugees who are pouring across the country's newly open borders, seeking a better life on East German soil. As refugees flood into East Berlin, the authorities have reported rising social tensions around the hastily erected camps. They predict that at least 15,000 more Romanians will be on their way to East Berlin in the coming days. Since Monday this week, they were reported to be arriving at a rate of more than 600 a day.
The problem will ``explode'' if legislation is not quickly introduced to cope with the sudden and unexpected influx of refugees, says Joachim Krabs of the social services department in East Berlin's town council. ``Already it is a social powder keg.''
In the suburb of Biesdorf, an Army barracks - Pionierbaukompanie No. 5 - has been transformed into an emergency refugee shelter. It is packed to overflowing with 1,100 Romanians. In some cases, families as big as 14 - from babies to grandmothers - must share a relatively small room, some sleeping in bunks. The refugees are given three meals a day and also receive free medical attention, says Maj. Harry Kretschmer.
When the train from Bucharest arrives at the main East Berlin station at Lichtenberg, Romanians make their way to the money changers who tell them where to go for shelter. Two trains arrive daily, one at 5:00 a.m. and the other at 5:00 p.m.
The reasons the Romanians left their country differ, Major Kretschmer says. Some are political refugees who fear that life under President Ion Iliescu could be worse than under former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Some are seeking better wages and employment conditions. And some are tourists, mostly Gypsies, who decided to apply for permission to remain in East Germany.
``You must distinguish between the Gypsies and the others,'' says Catarina Kennedy-Bannier, an East German citizen. ``The Gypsies are always connected with not being able to integrate in the society, and that's something people don't really like. It means insecurity for the Germans around them. People don't identify easily with Gypsies since they feel they come from a different cultural background.''
Taking in refugees from all over Eastern Europe could be dangerous for the government, she says, particularly since East Germany lacks a coordinated policy for dealing with asylum seekers.
The local authorities are said to have tried to keep secret the details as to where the refugees are being housed in order to prevent right-wing extremists, who are against foreigners, from making trouble. There have been no major incidents so far, says Kretschmer.
There are only about 20 Romanian interpreters in East Berlin. Five are working 12-hour shifts at Biesdorf.
Jutte H"ohne, one of the interpreters, highlights the difficulties facing the government.
``There is no system to provide refugees with aid,'' she says. ``There is nothing in our infrastructure to deal with this. We never expected this.''