PASSAU, WEST GERMANY
MANY of the more than 17,000 East German refugees that have passed through this southern Bavarian town in the past week arrived with next to nothing. Nearly all of them leave with two things: a job offer and a place to live. The two greatest fears of the refugees are unemployment and homelessness. Well-coordinated services organized by West German officials, along with hospitality by citizens and an intense recruitment drive by employers, now make either possibility seem remote.
``Almost all of the families leaving here have a job and an apartment to go to,'' reported Ulrich Mahler, deputy chief coordinator for a camp in Vilshofen - one of the eight resettlement facilities set up in and around the border town of Passau.
Employment officials anticipating last Monday's initial influx of over 10,000 East German refugees from Hungary called in 40 extra workers from surrounding towns to handle the case load. Companies continue to call in from all over West Germany, eager to hire generally well-trained East Germans.
In downtown Passau, the windshields of East German-made cars are quickly covered with photocopied job offers. Phone booths, light poles, and blank walls have become impromptu employment bureaus, layered with job descriptions. Some employers have driven trailers and buses to the gates of resettlement camps. Interviews are conducted inside, and people hired on the spot.
The town newspaper, the Passau New Press, teamed up with a local radio station and the Bavarian state employment office to print free special editions filled with 4,000 and then 8,000 job offers.
Some employers' ads even offer apartments or help in finding a place to live, and some West Germans are offering their vacation homes as temporary quarters.
Much of this welcome can be attributed to a heartfelt desire among most West Germans to help their brothers from the East. But the nearly frenzied efforts by employers to hire the new arrivals underscores the need for skilled workers in many parts of West Germany.
The state of Bavaria, with its booming economy, is expected to absorb almost a quarter of the refugees fleeing via Hungary. It will also make room for an almost equal percentage of the estimated 90,000 legal immigrants from East Germany this year.
``There is a great need for skilled tradesmen here. Thousands of positions have stayed empty for a long time,'' says Albert Limmer, press spokesman for the Bavarian state employment office. ``Of the 8,000 positions offered in the special editions of the Passau New Press, practically all of them were available before the refugees arrived,'' he continued.
Sensitive to charges from domestic politicians that these new arrivals will crowd out those who are already unemployed, Mr. Limmer insisted that no West Germans would be displaced by the new workers.
As West Germany has become more prosperous, fewer young people are entering the building trades, service industries, and skilled factory jobs, according to employment officials. Unemployed workers enjoy generous benefits, and are often reluctant to move to regions with greater job prospects.
In contrast, the East German refugees arrive with needed job skills, high motivation to work, and flexibility as to what jobs they will take and where they will live. Add youth to that list - the average age of refugees is 27 - and you have a highly employable group of people.
Nationwide, employment experts foresee no difficulty in absorbing so many workers. ``Most of them will probably wait only one or two weeks before finding work,'' says Klaus Weigelt, an economist with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation near Bonn.
The East German economy depends more on older smokestack industries than does West Germany. Worker training there may appear outdated for jobs in the high-tech economy of the West. However, in the coal, steel, and heavy-machine industries in the Ruhr valley, the skills are directly transferable. The cities of Stuttgart and Munich need skilled construction tradesmen to help housing and office space keep pace with their booming economies.
For refugees with advanced degrees, or with training for careers that are already overcrowded, such as teaching, finding a job may prove more difficult. But even they have something that makes them attractive to employers.
``They have a `go west' mentality, leaving everything behind to make a new life. It's an attitude almost incomprehensible to the mentality of most West Germans,'' says Mr. Weigelt. ``This pioneering spirit will help them succeed.''