Germans Adopt Hard-Fought Compromise on Asylum
NOW that German politicians have reached a broad-based compromise on how to stem the flow of asylum seekers here, it remains to be seen how quickly and effectively they can put their plans into practice.
Friedrich Bohl, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's chief of staff, yesterday said he expects Sunday's compromise to "quickly clear all parliamentary hurdles."
Although Mr. Bohl admitted that not all of the wishes of Kohl's Christian Democratic Union were met, he said the compromise would nonetheless "effectively" stem the flow of asylum seekers in Germany - estimated at a record 500,000 this year.
It took months of debate and 50 hours of negotiations for the parties in the government's center-right coalition to reach agreement with the opposition Social Democrats, who had long maintained that the asylum application procedure should not be touched.
But the flood of applicants, the almost daily right-wing extremist attacks on homes for asylum seekers, and the fear of losing voters to right-wing parties forced the negotiators to a solution. The compromise seeks to cull economic refugees from the truly politically oppressed. Although it preserves the constitutional right of individuals to seek asylum, as well as to appeal if they are rejected, several exceptions are planned.
Asylum seekers from European Community states as well as states which accept the Geneva Convention on Refugees and the European Human Rights Convention "will not enjoy the right to asylum" and will be turned away at the border, said Wolfgang Schauble, parliamentary leader of Kohl's Christian Democrats, at a press conference late Sunday night. War refugees will be handled separately.
HE plan also calls for a list of "safe countries" to be drawn up where no political persecution is known, and to be approved by the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament. Refugees from these countries will be refused entry unless they can argue their case convincingly.
Lawmakers say they will introduce the changes to parliament immediately after the Christmas break. The constitutional changes will require the cooperation of the opposition Social Democrats to pass.
Using this as leverage, the opposition was able to extract some concessions from the ruling coalition parties. These include a 200,000 annual quota on ethnic German immigrants (who are granted automatic citizenship) and easier terms for citizenship for long-standing foreigners in Germany.
Officials in the talks said they hoped the new rules would take effect by mid-1993. But it is unclear how effective they will be. For instance, the compromise emphasizes turning back obvious asylum fakes at the border, yet the Germans have very loose border controls. Only 5 to 7 percent of all asylum seekers make their application at the border.
Although the compromise appears to have won broad political support in Germany, refugee experts had some criticism. Walter Koisser, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Bonn, worries that new democracies such as Poland and Czechoslovakia will not be able to handle a flood of refugees turned back from Germany.
Herbert Leuninger, a Pro Asyl spokesman, criticized the agreement as a "victory of the street" and a "defeat for a state ruled by law."
But the opinion "on the street" in Germany appears to be changing. According to an Emnid Institute poll published yesterday by the news weekly Der Spiegel, the number of people who reject the rightist slogan "Foreigners out!" has jumped markedly from 43 percent to 69 percent in the two weeks since three Turks were killed by neo-Nazi firebombs.
On Sunday night, hundreds of thousands of Germans took to the streets to protest anti-foreigner attacks and right extremism. The biggest demonstration was in Munich, where roughly 300,000 people formed a gigantic star in the city's streets, holding candles in the night in silent protest.