The German government has appointed a special commission to study how to change the laws on asylum and immigration. The goal is to keep out bogus asylum seekers while encouraging immigration of highly skilled workers. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports.
Munich, 13 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Interior Minister Otto Schily says part of Germany's problem with immigration is that present laws open the gates to thousands of asylum seekers, many of whom are just using the asylum laws as a first step towards settling in Germany. On the other hand, he says, it remains difficult for workers with useful skills to pass through the tangled net of immigration regulations.
Schily told journalists in Berlin that Germany accepts around 100,000 would-be asylum seekers each year. "About 80 percent of these have no chance of obtaining asylum," he said. "If we can reduce their numbers, we will have more room to deal with skilled immigrants who can benefit the country."
The minister said Germany will continue to shoulder its humanitarian responsibility towards asylum seekers, but will also be aware of economic and political interests in granting residence. He said his policy can be summed up as "fewer asylum seekers and more skilled immigrants."
Schily said the present asylum process is used largely by people looking for a chance to emigrate, at least for a while.
"It is a fact, which cannot be ignored, that the asylum process to a large extent is used by people looking for a possibility to emigrate, at least for a time," he said.
The government has appointed a 21-member commission to study ways to reform asylum and immigration policy. On the commission are representatives of most German political parties as well as churches, employers, trade unions, and other groups. The government hopes that within about a year the group will produce ideas for reducing the number of asylum seekers while encouraging the immigration of highly qualified specialists.
The commission is expected to propose sharpening the present laws on asylum, but it is also expected to respect a German law offering protection to the politically persecuted. The commission must also take into account the present discussions in the European Union on a common immigration and asylum policy.
Schily said the commission will also look at the impact of the eastward enlargement of the European Union. The membership of central European countries in the union is expected to lead to more foreign workers entering Germany.
The appointment of the commission is a result of a growing debate in Germany on what sort of country it wants to be in the future.
Population experts say that Germany will experience serious problems in the near future unless the number of qualified immigrants is drastically increased. The low German birthrate means that the welfare system could collapse in three to five decades unless immigrants are brought in on a large scale to boost the population.
The other side of the argument comes from social scientists and conservative politicians. They argue that a large influx of immigrants threatens the nation's prosperity, whether the newcomers are asylum seekers, economic refugees, or people benefiting from family reunification programs. Some also point to the frequent attacks on foreigners in some parts of Germany and argue that domestic peace could be threatened unless there are more controls.
Some conservative provinces have argued that the traditional character of Germany could change as a result of the influx of asylum seekers and immigrants. The province of Bavaria has taken the lead in demanding that all foreigners allowed to remain in Germany must be integrated into the German way of life.
These provinces argue that Germany should not become a multicultural society like Britain or France, where there are large numbers of immigrants and asylum seekers who never integrate and remain in colonies speaking their own language. Some continue to protest against a 1998 court ruling in Berlin that allowed the city's 35,000 Muslim children to receive Islamic instruction in schools, just as Catholics and Protestants receive Christian instruction.
These conservatives do agree that Germany should continue to offer sanctuary to those who are genuinely persecuted. But they insist that Germany alone cannot offer refuge to all the oppressed. Other European countries, they say, should also share the responsibility.
Such a sharing of responsibility across Europe, particularly a shared distribution of those seeking asylum, is expected to be among the recommendations formulated by the German commission.