Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Flight of Kurds Opens Holes in Europe's Borders Germany Demands End to Exodus. EU Police Met Last Week. Italy and Greece Say Kurd Migrants Are Welcome

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Flight of Kurds Opens Holes in Europe's Borders Germany Demands End to Exodus. EU Police Met Last Week. Italy and Greece Say Kurd Migrants Are Welcome

Article excerpt

'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," reads the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. The sentiment has been taken up in Rome in recent days.

Last week, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said the Kurdish refugees fleeing Turkey across the Adriatic Sea in rickety boats would be welcomed "with open arms."

And Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro declared his country "wide open" to "people living with persecution." What has played in Italy as noble idealism, however, has been seen in Germany as cynical grandstanding. Italy's announced decision to grant political asylum to the approximately 2,000 refugees that have arrived since the beginning of the new year touched off a bitter conflict with Germany. The conflict was calmed - somewhat - by a marathon 10-hour meeting of European police chiefs at the end of last week. Turkey and seven European Union (EU) members agreed to a program of tighter controls on Kurds departing from Turkey. Yesterday, Turkish police detained more than 1,300 people in a crackdown on would-be illegal immigrants to Western Europe. Both the German and Turkish governments consider the Kurds economic migrants rather than political refugees. Kurdish exodus a sensitive issue It's a sensitive point for Turkey, whose government does not like being accused of repression against its population: 27,000 people are estimated to have died in the guerrilla conflict between Kurdish rebels and government forces. It's also a sensitive point for Germany, the likely final destination for these Kurds, because of its generous social benefits and the large Kurdish communities already established here. "Hundreds of thousands of Kurds in Germany exercise a powerful attraction," says Giorgio Napolitano, the Italian interior minister. Even if Italian authorities decide the incoming Kurds are not qualified for political asylum, they have 15 days to get out of the country, which in many cases means heading for Germany. In October, Italy joined Germany, Austria, France, the Benelux countries, Portugal, and Spain as a signatory to the Schengen Accord, which allows for passport-free border crossings between participants. So once on Italian soil, travelers face no further immigration restrictions as they head to other "Schengen" countries. Even in a country as self-consciously a "land of immigrants" as the United States, where the melting-pot ideal has been elevated to the status of national myth, there are inconsistencies in treatment of would-be immigrant groups: Cubans fleeing Castro, si; Haitians, no. Refugee welcome mat worn out Here in Germany, sensitivities about the arrival of new waves of foreigners are even keener. On one hand, many Germans have had their own experiences as refugees: the legions forced out of the Sudetenland in what is now the Czech Republic at the end of World War II, and the waves of Silesians forced westward into defeated, war-ravaged Germany when the map was redrawn and their communities reassigned to Poland. On the other hand, today's Germans note they have accepted more Bosnian refugees and more Kurds from Turkey and Iraq than has the rest of the EU combined. The country's financially strapped cities and towns are feeling the pinch. Unemployment for December hit a record 4.55 million, seasonally adjusted. Chancellor Helmut Kohl admitted publicly Friday that his stated goal of cutting joblessness by half by 2000 is "certainly not achievable. …

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