Germany turns back refugees

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN 100 asylum-seekers were turned back at Germany's eastern borders yesterday, on the first day that new, tighter asylum laws came into effect.

There were queues at borders, because of the tighter checks that have been introduced. None the less, most in Germany expect that streams of asylum-seekers will continue to arrive.

Until now, Germany has had some of the most liberal asylum laws in the world: anyone could ask for asylum, and could stay for months or years while his or her case was argued out. Almost half a million asylum-seekers arrived in Germany last year. The city of Hamburg took in more refugees than Britain. While the asylum-seekers wait to have their case heard, they are supported and housed by the German state.

This unique generosity could not last, however. The pressures grew, after the collapse of the old Iron Curtain, which allowed poorer East Europeans to flock to Germany. At the same time, the violent xenophobia in Germany was growing, too. Earlier this year, after much controversy, parliament finally agreed to change the constitution, and tighten the existing laws.

The most important change is that asylum-seekers arriving from 'safe' third countries - most notably, from Poland and the Czech Republic - can be turned back at the border. Germany has agreed to give financial assistance to help Poland cope as the buck is passed back towards the east.

In the Czech and Slovak republics, the situation is more complicated. Prague is only ready to sign a Poland-style agreement with Bonn if it is confident that the asylum-seekers will not continue to flood into the Czech Republic via Slovakia; but the terms of last year's Czech-Slovak divorce specify the borders between the two should remain as open as possible.