By Francine S. Kiefer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
GERMANY is discovering the downside of open borders in Europe.
Thousands of East Europeans, mostly Romanians and Bulgarians, are camping out just beyond Germany's eastern frontier, waiting for a chance to slip into the land of prosperity.
It is the scene of a nightly cat-and-mouse game between German border guards and determined illegal migrants who wade from Poland across the Neisse River or scramble over the mountains from Czechoslovakia.
Two hundred extra border guards, as well as helicopters and boats, have been sent to the area. But if the migrants know to utter the magic word "asyl" when they are caught, they are sent on to a refugee camp in eastern Germany instead of being delivered back across the border.
Germany has one of the most liberal asylum laws in Europe, and the number of asylum seekers here is markedly rising - to the point where many Germans want to hang out the "no vacancy" sign.
As German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said in a television interview last Sunday, this is "no land of immigration." He wants to alter the clause in the German Constitution which sanctions the right to seek asylum. He is backed in this by Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble, who is also pushing a coordinated European approach to the continent's new problem of mass migration.
Economic upheaval in Eastern Europe is the driving force behind the wave of asylum requests in Europe, says Mr. Schauble. Political persecution plays only a "marginal" role, he said in a press statement last week.
So far this year, according to Schauble, requests for refugee status are up 15 percent in Germany. More than 200,000 asylum seekers are expected by year end. Half of the asylum requests made in Europe last year were filed in Germany.
Meanwhile, next to Italy, Germany has the highest number of illegal aliens in Europe, an estimated 400,000, according to the International Labor Organization.
Bonn is to begin bilateral talks on the migration issue with Warsaw later this month and with Prague in September. Schauble hopes he can arrange a meeting on the subject in October with leaders from France, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland.
The migration problem, he says, is a pan-European one. What's needed, the interior minister suggests, is a harmonization of asylum procedures and criteria within the European Community, as well as aid to Eastern Europe to improve living conditions there. He also wants to see Germany's system of refugee distribution - in which each German state has a quota matched to its estimated ability to absorb refugees - adopted by the EC.
The European approach is all well and good, say local politicians in Germany, but their country has an immediate crisis on its hands and needs fast relief. …