Germany rolls up the welcome mat

Wednesday, October 16, 1991

By Will Firth

BERLIN — A steadily increasing stream of refugees and migrants is reaching Western Europe. One-half of them arrive in Germany.

Immigration offices are overwhelmed by the influx — as I learned first hand in endless queues for a new visa. Emergency accommodation is rapidly filling to capacity.

In the summer months, the media in Germany and other West European countries turned their spotlight on immigration. The hysterical fashion of the "debate" was exemplified in late July and early August by a media spectacle around the landing of Albanian refugees in the Italian port of Brindisi and their extradition soon afterwards.

The language used is reminiscent of the "yellow peril" fears once cultivated in Australia. "The boat is full", scream the tabloids. "The limits have been reached", the politicians say sternly.

Behind these sentiments is the lie about the new mass migration: that these are "greedy foreigners" coming to "feed off our hard-earned livelihood". In fact, the immigrants are overwhelmingly people who would have preferred to stay in their native lands but whose subsistence has been destroyed by the cash-cropping drive of multinational agribusiness, or who have been uprooted by war and oppression by forces largely supported or condoned by the West, or who are seeking a way out of the almost Third World misery of the collapsed east bloc economies.

Despite what the mainstream media may say, Germany lacks neither funds nor space. Although the annexation of East Germany has placed big burdens on the economy, it remains among the wealthiest and most powerful in the world.

Solving the worldwide refugee problem at its source would be an expensive but quite possible task for the economies which impoverished these regions in the first place.

Neither is there really a shortage of space for refugees (although the gutter press loves to cite parents complaining that their children are prevented from playing sport because their school gymnasium has been refitted as an accommodation centre).

In reality, there are large new capacities becoming available through the departure of troops (over 300,000 Soviet troops and 200,000 Soviet civilian support staff from the former East Germany by 1994).

What is really missing is the humanitarian will to take on new arrivals and the political will to challenge the old New World Order.

Capital and the German state are not against immigration as such — on the contrary, it's widely agreed in mainstream Germany that immigration is desirable. But it must be "controlled", it is stressed.

Among the desirables are those coming from poor countries, who are often unaware of their rights and prepared to work hard for little income. Young specialists are also welcome and are being bought up by Western firms, e.g. from the technically trained workforce of eastern Europe, thus adding to the brain drain from those countries.

The conservative politician Heiner Geissler sees in increased immigration a big plus for the traditional social structure, which is becoming more aged and also has a more independent generation of women. A population influx from regions with a traditional family-based value system and (preferably Christian) religious identity could contribute to the "rejuvenation" of society in the patriarchal sense.

Much of the debate has revolved around Article 16 of the constitution, which guarantees refugees the right to asylum. Numerous political forces are calling for its abolition and replacement by quick procedures for turning people back at the borders.

The introduction of quotas for refugees based on their country of origin is quite probable. This would be in keeping with moves within the EEC toward a strict, unified immigration policy by 1992.

Due to the strict measures envisaged, the EEC has been dubbed, ironically, "Fortress Europe".

The quota strategy is based on the absurd assumption that there can be no genuine refugees from particular countries (e.g. from crisis-ridden Poland, because "Poland now has an elected government".)

Independent refugee/immigrant organisations and other progressive groups are not taking this aggression passively. In May the Immigrants' Political Forum held its Eighth Congress in Frankfurt, campaigning against discrimination and racism and for a strong, confident identity of non-Germans in Germany.

In August, various left organisations held a counter-demonstration at a major rally in the south of eastern Germany. Neo-Nazi attacks on foreigners are rooted to a large extent in the mass unemployment and frustration in the east.

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