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Germany to Repatriate Thousands from Romania

By Tamara Jones
Los Angeles Times

BERLIN

Germany announced plans Thursday to repatriate thousands of illegal aliens from Romania in the first major step toward controlling a flood of asylum-seekers.

A statement released by the Interior Ministry in Bonn said that the Romanian government had agreed "after months of negotiations" to begin taking back Gypsies and Romanians who do not qualify for asylum under German law.

The influx of foreigners seeking a better life in relatively prosperous Germany but a Germany nonetheless burdened with the high cost of trying to pull its eastern half up to western levels has fired deep resentment among many Germans. Many of those seeking asylum have become the target of almost nightly fire-bombings by jeering right-wing extremists.

The ministry statement noted that about 43,000 Romanians, about 60 percent of them Gypsies, had entered Germany as of Aug. 31. The statement referred to the "flagrant abuse of asylum by the Romanians," and added that only 0.2 percent of them had the right to asylum here.

Only applicants who can prove they suffer political persecution at home qualify for asylum in Germany, but the processing of such claims often takes years (the backlog is currently around 300,000 cases) and all applicants collect welfare benefits while waiting.

Germany's main political parties are currently squabbling over various proposals to tighten the country's liberal asylum law. That would require changing the constitution.

The Bundestag, or lower house of Parliament, is expected to debate asylum this year. The issue is at the forefront of public concern, especially in the eastern states, where unemployment is high and decent housing is scarce, both factors feeding resentment of the foreigners.

Everyone claiming asylum is guaranteed food and shelter under German law, and some cities hand out pocket money or living stipends as well. At times, this has caused caravans of Gypsies to mass in a single community.

Gypsies have been the principal target of the neo-Nazis, skinheads and other right-wing extremists who have been storming refugee shelters on a regular basis for the past month. The latest spate of violence began three weeks ago in the Baltic seaport of Rostock, where hundreds of Gypsies had been camped out all summer in front of an overcrowded refugee processing center.

The center was located in a complex of Communist-era high-rises where about 20,000 eastern Germans live. After local authorities failed to respond to neighbors' complaints of unsanitary conditions, theft and rowdiness among the Gypsies, right-wing radicals stormed the grounds and drove the unwelcome foreigners out as local residents cheered from their balconies.

Officials estimate that only 5 percent of the 500,000 asylum-seekers expected to pour across Germany's borders this year will eventually be granted asylum. Romanians are outnumbered only by applicants from what used to be Yugoslavia among asylum-seekers, according to the Interior Ministry.

The number of economic refugees from the Third World and eastern Europe has grown dramatically since the Berlin Wall fell nearly three years ago, and the figure could reach 1 million by the end of 1993.

Interior Minister Rudolf Seiters said that he expected that a treaty to be signed next week in Bucharest "will deter people smugglers and those they smuggle," the statement said.

Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Schneider told The Los Angeles Times in a telephone interview that the deportees would be sent home "by all means of affordable transportation.

Asylum-seekers currently are free to come and go from the hostels, barracks and even boats where they are housed; the statement did not indicate whether this policy might change to simplify deportation.

Seiters is also negotiating with other countries to take back their citizens who fail to qualify for German asylum, according to the ministry statement, which did not specify which nations are involved.

There was no mention of additional financial credits or other aid being offered to these countries in exchange for signing such agreements, which the ministry said are necessary in order to turn away fraudulent asylum-seekers.