Germany Mirrors Europe's Move to Curb Immigration ; A Law Set to Take Effect in January Is Aimed at Luring Skilled Workers and Restricting Asylum Seekers

Article excerpt

For the past four years, Cameroonian Tita Koyima Denis's weeks have repeated themselves, as he puts it, "like a photocopy": nights on a hard mattress in a cramped apartment of a home for asylum seekers; days spent either watching TV, listening to the radio, or trying to set up a network of Cameroonian political activists living in exile.

Stranded in an immigrant's limbo while German officials review his application for political asylum, Mr. Denis receives a monthly allowance of 198 euros ($195) from the German government, but he is not allowed to work or enroll in studies.

Denis says the frustration of inactivity has now become compounded by his fears that he will be deported and face reprisal in Cameroon once Germany's first-ever immigration law takes effect in January.

Wanted: qualified workers

The new law's primary focus is to draw highly skilled workers to Germany, where about 750,000 jobs stand empty, and provide public money for language programs that would better integrate the roughly 7 million foreigners already here. Like other countries in Europe, Germany is faced with an aging population, a birth rate among the lowest on the Continent, and an economy in need of qualified workers.

But the law includes measures that reflect the harder line Europe is taking on immigrants. Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's coalition government is cracking down on those determined to have no legitimate claim to asylum. A category affecting about 250,000 immigrants, now considered "tolerated" by Germany, will be dissolved. The category includes those without valid papers, those claiming to be too ill to return home, and those repeatedly appealing a rejected asylum application.

Supporters say the new law will ferret out fraud and streamline rules on asylum seekers. But asylum advocates fear that thousands of legitimate refugees could be deported. And some migration experts say a more daunting process will scare off legitimate political refugees and spur the very illegal immigration Germany and other countries in Europe are trying to stop. "Now that it's become harder for people to apply for asylum ... the reliance on illegal channels is increasing," says Charlotte Altenhoener of the European Council of Refugees and Exiles.

An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people arrive illegally in Western Europe every year, according to EU statistics. Legal asylum applicants, on the other hand, number some 380,000, a number that has been steadily declining since the Bosnian war sent thousands of refugees flooding into Western Europe in the early 1990s. …