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Cynicism in East Berlin

IT'S been a season for heavy advertising by the travel industry -- but not just by airlines eager to lure American tourists back to the Mediterranean. The East German airline, Interflug, has been advertising heavily of late in third-world countries such as Ghana, not usually seen as a prime market for international tourism. But no matter. In droves, Ghanaians, Iranians, Pakistanis, and others are turning over their life savings for tickets on flights into Sch"onefeld, East Berlin's airport. From there, the East German operators (the term is used advisedly) pack their passengers onto buses and take them to the Friedrichstrasse station in East Berlin, where they catch the elevated train across to the West -- and, they hope, asylum.

In short, the East Germans have been embarrassing the West with this flood of refugees, and making money at it to boot. Moreover, a whole murky industry has grown up, with shadowy middlemen dealing at least in forged documents and at worst in human freight that is shipped around the world like container goods.

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It's not clear what's going on here. The East Germans may just be trying to shake loose some more money from Bonn (interest-free trade credits and the like) and so might stem the tide if more money comes forth. Such payments from Bonn have resolved similar crises before. Given the large share of this unusual tourist traffic that is coming in on the Soviet airline, Aeroflot, Soviets may be trying to foment inter-German disharmony.

In any case, this flood of third-worlders represents another squeeze on West Berlin, and it is making many West Germans rethink their longstanding policy of openness to all who seek asylum. A way has to be found to meet this present challenge without throwing over that honorable policy.

Time and again, the Western powers have had to stand up to the Soviets over Berlin. It looks as though the cynics in East Berlin, removed from the world problem of refugees because virtually no one sees East Germany as a refuge, will have to be faced again.

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