Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Reinforcing Europe's 'Green Border' THE NEW EASTERN FRONT Series: SPECIAL REPORT. EUROPE'S IMMIGRANTS. Series of Articles All Appearing Today

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Reinforcing Europe's 'Green Border' THE NEW EASTERN FRONT Series: SPECIAL REPORT. EUROPE'S IMMIGRANTS. Series of Articles All Appearing Today

Article excerpt

POPPING out of the tops of lush green trees where the Hungarian forest meets Austrian wheat fields in Burgenland state, an old Hungarian border tower stands as a solitary reminder of the way things used to be.

"Now we're the ones with the guard towers," says Gunther Hauer, a fresh recruit to the Austrian police, as he points out the towers recently built by the Austrian Army assigned to reinforce border surveillance.

"Two years ago, it was the Hungarian Army's job to keep people in," he says, "and now here we are doing our best to keep people out."

The fall of the Iron Curtain has opened a new front in Western Europe's battle with immigration - traditionally oriented toward the south. After a sharp rise in entries from the East following the demilitarization of borders between Western and Eastern Europe in late 1989 and early 1990, the number of people attempting a move from East to West has fallen off. Some experts now say fears of massive migrations were never warranted.

Yet even if illegal entries of Hungarians or Czechoslovaks have dwindled, the number of Romanians caught here in Burgenland state remains high. And sophisticated underground networks for getting illegally entering Poles to jobs in the West are frequently discovered, as in recent cases in Paris.

Increasingly, people from developing nations also are attempting entry to the West by way of Europe's so-called "green border." A recent log of apprehensions in Austria's Eisenstadt district, where Mr. Hauer works, includes a Chinese, a Mongolian, five Pakistanis, three Nigerians, and a Sri Lankan, in addition to the majority Romanians. The number apprehended in this one district often tops 20 a night.

"We are getting more and more people from the third world, people with no documents and no legal status. It's a real security problem, and it is only going to get worse," says Gerhard Wild, assistant director for the Burgenland district police charged with immigration affairs.

Still, what has some officials most concerned is the opening up of Soviet borders in 1993, when the recently voted "freedom of movement" takes effect.

The prospect of what Soviet officials predict might be millions of jobless Soviet citizens moving West is perhaps most unsettling to Eastern European officials, who once again see themselves serving in an East-West battle zone - this time with people, not arms, at issue.

"It's the future of the Soviet Union that has us terrified," says Andras Rakovszky, Hungarian ambassador to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. "Even if we serve as no more than a path for transit, it will be overwhelming for us."

SUCH concerns are at the root of Western interest in massive aid programs to help the Soviet Union avoid economic breakdown. The topic dominated the summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations in London last month. Some Western officials have even accused the Soviets of using those fears to blackmail the West into providing huge amounts of assistance.

Others, however, do not believe a mass Soviet emigration will materialize.

"I remain optimistic about the Soviet Union, I don't believe we will see millions of Soviets coming to the West," says Erich Kussbach, who heads the legal and consular department of the Austrian Foreign Ministry.

Immigration specialists who agree say a number of factors will work as a brake on large-scale departures: the Soviet Union's poor travel infrastructure, the inability to convert rubles to foreign currency, visa requirements throughout Europe for Soviet citizens, and tightening border controls. …

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