Germany agrees on refugee controls

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The Independent Online
Germany's governing coalition put more than a year of squabbling behind it yesterday by agreeing on proposals to toughen asylum provisions.

Central to the draft amendment to the constitution is the immediate expulsion of all those with 'clearly unfounded' requests for asylum. Refugees from countries where there is no clear political persecution, or who have come to Germany via a 'safe' third country, will be processed according to an accelerated procedure based on the Geneva Convention on Refugees. Social security benefits for asylum-seekers would be cut to the 'necessary minimum'. At present, the average social security support per refugee amounts to DM508 ( pounds 211) a month.

Yesterday's agreement between the Christian Democrats, Christian Social Union and Free Democrats marks the first significant effort by the government to deal with the refugees who have flooded into Germany since the collapse of the Iron Curtain. In the first nine months of this year a record 320,000 refugees came in. Pressure on local community accommodation and finances has contributed to growing intolerance and to horrifying outbreaks of racist violence which has deeply alarmed the main parties.

Having agreed some months ago to amend the constitution, the coalition remained divided on how tough such change should be. Yesterday, under Chancellor Helmut Kohl's chairmanship, the party leaders' minds were concentrated, by mounting public impatience and the spread of neo-Nazi attacks, to reach a compromise.

To help bring the proposals into force, the government is turning to the opposition Social Democrats, whose support is needed for the necessary two-thirds parliamentary majority. In a dramatic U-turn in August, the SPD leader, Bjorn Engholm, called upon the party to abandon its traditional opposition to constitutional changes. The sudden about- turn provoked a deep split among the rank and file, despite assurances that genuine victims of persecution would be allowed in.

A special party congress has been called for 16 November to decide whether the SPD will follow Mr Engholm in compromising with the government. Resolutions from regional SPD organisations suggest, however, that opposition to Mr Engholm's line is growing. He warned yesterday that if the SPD did not act now, voters would desert it in the face of a continued influx of foreigners.