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Germany's Quandary Over Asylum

Political parties differ over proposals for constitutional reform to deal with refugee influx. `IMMIGRATION COUNTRY'

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THE difficulties Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government is having getting its own coalition partners to concur on proposed changes in Germany's liberal asylum law indicate how sensitive the issue is. At a time of record immigration, continuing violence against foreigners, and immense public demand to "do something," United Nations officials are concerned that proposed legal changes could restrict the rights of those legitimately in need of asylum.

Article 16 of the German Constitution states, in part, that anyone fleeing political persecution enjoys the right of asylum. This guarantee has roots in the not-too-distant past, when, under Hitler, thousands were forced out of the country because of their religious or political beliefs.

Now Chancellor Kohl's conservative Christian Democrats propose replacing this provision in the Constitution with a statement that asylum will be granted under the terms of the Geneva Convention on Refugees, to which Germany is a signatory.

The Geneva Convention defines refugees as only those with a well founded fear of persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group or political ideology. Public opinion holds that most of those now seeking asylum would be refused under the Geneva Convention.

"It has been shown, that measures taken hitherto to limit the abuse of the right of asylum have been defeated by realities," says an official statement by Interior Minister Rudolf Seiters.

Under their leader Bjorn Engholm, the Social Democrats are likewise trying to address the issue. Last month a number of their leaders came up with "the Petersburg change," known for the resort where it was worked out: a formula to retain the right of asylum but establish legal immigration, with quotas, as in the United States and elsewhere - something Germany doesn't now have. The Petersburg formula is to be voted on at a special party congress Nov. 17.

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