Some German States Complain Asylum Plan Won't Work
BONN — THE political compromise over Germany's asylum problem - to put asylum seekers in central camps and decide their cases in a mere six weeks - is being widely criticized as unworkable.The compromise was hammered out just over a week ago when Chancellor Helmut Kohl failed to convince opposition Social Democrats to alter the Constitution so that people who are obvious "economic refugees" can be immediately turned back at the border. With over 200,000 applicants for political asylum expected in Germany this year, and with attacks on foreigners here alarmingly frequent, the asylum issue overshadows all others in Germany today. Despite agreeing to the compromise, however, several large states are complaining loudly that the concept won't work. "We had 10 years of experience with central housing for asylum seekers and that only led to big problems," says Rainer Knubben, spokesman for the Interior Ministry of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg. Mr. Knubben says fights erupted among different nationalities put under the same roof. Hunger strikes spread when refugees refused to eat German-style food. Drug dealing and abuse flourished. As a result, the state dismantled the "collection quarters" (Knubben refuses to use the word "camps" because of the Nazi connotation) and now houses asylum seekers in thousands of locations. Knubben admits asylum seekers can be better protected and their cases more quickly handled if they are centrally housed on military bases which are being vacated - as is the idea. But the situation inside the fences will become intolerable, he predicts. Meanwhile, nearly all the states are skeptical that the application process can be shaved to six weeks. Today it takes six months to several years to complete a case. Even though well over 90 percent of the applicants are rejected, asylum seekers take advantage of their right to appeal to lengthen the process. Despite their complaints, the states say they will try to implement the compromise. At this time of upheaval, "people need some sense that politicians are really trying to do something," says Dietmar Zeleny, spokesman for North Rhein-Westfalia. Indeed, the attacks on foreigners appear out of control in Germany. The Federal Crime Office reported last week 300 crimes against foreigners in the first seven months of this year, shooting up to 1,000 by mid-October. The police are being criticized as unable to control the violence. Thousands of "foreigner-friendly" Germans are taking the law into their own hands, staging 24-hour watches at homes for asylum seekers. Germany allows no immigration, except for ethnic Germans. But some politicians here are raising the idea of immigration quotas. They say that with 5 million foreigners here - people who helped work Germany's economic miracle - the country is in fact multicultural, whether people admit it or not. This idea, however, does not enjoy widespread political support, and it became clear over the weekend that Chancellor Kohl and his party will still try this year to push through his proposed constitutional change .