The influx has been sudden—and dramatic. In the first seven months of this year, about 100,000 ethnic Germans from the Soviet Union, Poland and Romania have streamed into West Germany as a result of relaxed travel and emigration restrictions in their former homelands. Immigration officials now expect a further 100,000 to arrive in West Germany before the year ends. The newcomers are entitled to citizenship under the West German constitution, but the huge influx has clearly taken Bonn by surprise and is straining the government’s welfare services. And some West Germans have not welcomed the refugees. Indeed, Chancellor Helmut Kohl reminded his countrymen on television in mid-August that “it is our duty to welcome them because they are Germans like you and me.”
Since the division of Germany at the end of the Second World War, West Germany has absorbed more than three million refugees from Communist East Germany. But the new arrivals are from the 3.5 million ethnic Germans scattered among the other Communist nations of Eastern Europe. Since the beginning of the year, about 70,000 Polish-Germans and 21,000 ethnic Germans from the Soviet Union have arrived in West Germany—compared with an annual average of 5,000 from that country since 1968.
But West Germany is a popular destination for refugees from other parts of the world, and its transit camps are
already filled with non-German refugees. As a result, most of the ethnic Germans have found temporary accommodation in hotels, empty schoolrooms and tents. In mid-August, some leading politicians and clergymen asked West Germans to offer rooms in their homes to “our German brethren.” But some West Germans have been hostile toward the newcomers, many of whom speak little or no German. The refugees qualify as ethnic Germans if they can produce documents showing that a grandparent was born in Germany. In fact, Heinrich Lummer, a right-wing member of Kohl’s Christian Democratic Party, declared publicly that the only thing German about many of the refugees from Poland was that “they may once have owned a German shepherd dog.” Indeed, many of the arrivals clearly have trouble adapting to West Germany. Said psychologist Line Kossolapow, who has worked with refugee children: “They would like to be good Germans but they have more in common with the mentality of their countries of origin.” Bonn is trying to ease the strain of transition by setting aside $620 million this year and further funds in 1989 to provide housing and job and language training. Those funds may help the refugees become acclimatized. But they may do little to convince many West Germans to welcome the newcomers with open arms.
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