NEWS: Germany fights wave of immigrant smuggling

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Jyothi Kanics---Global Survival Network (jkanics@igc.apc.org)
Tue, 10 Nov 1998 15:19:01 -0800 (PST)


FEATURE - Germany fights wave of immigrant smuggling
By Deborah Cole

CAEMMERSWALDE, Germany, Nov 9 (Reuters) - While Germany fights off a wave
of refugees with little to lose, it is becoming a prime target for
unscrupulous immigrant smugglers with everything to gain.

As more people, particularly those trying to escape the horrors in Kosovo
and the economic turmoil of Albania, seek refuge in Germany, a cottage
industry of professional transport bands has sprung up to take advantage of
the situation.

The German government has shown particular interest in cracking down on
illegal immigration because Germany is a geographical focal point with nine
countries on its border and comparatively generous conditions for legal
refugees.

The country is home to nearly half the refugees registered in the European
Union and border officials have said that refugees who find shelter in
Germany often draw relatives and friends from home who try to join them.

Germany seized 30 percent more illegal immigrants this year than in 1997
and more immigrant smugglers in the first nine months of the year than in
all of last year, according to Interior Ministry data.

The ministry said the figures were boosted by both a greater influx of
refugees and more effective enforcement.

The federal border patrol (BGS) in Caemmerswalde, 40 km (25 miles)
southeast of Dresden at the Czech frontier, said its work has grown more
difficult in the last year largely because of the influence of smugglers.

``The readiness among immigrant smugglers to use violence has increased
enormously,'' said inspector Ruediger Feustel. ``I wonder how long it will
be before we see shootouts between the smugglers and officers.''

Feustel said that the primary victims of the smugglers recklessness and
greed are generally the refugees themselves.

FATAL ACCIDENTS AND BRUSHES WITH DEATH

In July, seven Kosovo Albanians were killed and 21 injured when the driver
of their van, a suspected Czech smuggler, tried to evade German border
guards and crashed.

Last month, police near Munich deported 75 Kosovo Albanians who had entered
the country illegally. They had been packed so tightly into a truck that
some nearly suffocated.

Nineteen people -- including five pregnant women -- had to be taken to
hospital suffering from exhaustion and oxygen deprivation after being
crammed into an eight square metre (86 square feet) space. The driver of
the rented truck escaped arrest.

Feustel told of a recent case in which 24 Chinese immigrants had a brush
with death when the drivers they had paid to secure entry into Germany
bolted from the small van into which the refugees were packed and let the
vehicle roll. It came to a standstill near the edge of a cliff.

``The smugglers know very well that in a certain percentage of their border
crossings, something will happen to the refugees,'' Feustel said. ``They
factor it in.''

Most of the organised smugglers at the German-Czech border are Czech but
they occasionally work together with German accomplices because of a
cultivated distrust of outsiders in towns along the border, Feustel said.

``The people who live in this area know who belongs and who does not,''
Feustel said, adding that his patrol stations frequently receive tip-offs
from local residents about ``suspicious-looking persons.''

FIGHTING ORGANISED SMUGGLING

Border authorities said that they have had to revamp their patrols to
combat the influx of organised immigrant smugglers.

Smugglers have set up meeting points just over the Czech border where
refugees from across eastern Europe and as far afield as Pakistan, Senegal,
Vietnam and the Dominican Republic gather on the way into Germany.

Abandoned factories or empty barns house the would-be immigrants until the
smugglers decide the time is ripe to cross the border.

Prices varies widely, but one intepreter who works with the BGS in
Caemmerswalde said about 1,500 marks (about $900) a head was the going rate
just to cross the German border. A journey from Kosovo, for example, might
cost $6,000 marks (about $3,600), the interpreter said.

The common practice is for smugglers to rent a vehicle in which they can
cram as many refugees as possible to increase profits.

In the last year, Caemmerswalde border guards have been using new tools on
their patrols including carbon dioxide sensors to detect breathing in cargo
compartments, night vision binoculars and bicycles to allow officers to
speed silently through the Erzgebirge forests.

ILLEGAL AND LEGAL IMMIGRATION

While Germany has traditionally not viewed itself as a land of immigration,
the new Social Democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and coalition partners
the Greens have introduced reforms to the country's 85-year-old citizenship
law.

The new law will make it easier for the seven million foreigners legally
living in Germany to gain citizenship, but its refugee policy, among the
most liberal in the world, is likely to become progressively more restrictive.

In one of his first statements after entering office, new Interior Minister
Otto Schily proposed introducing a quota system in the EU to ease the
burden on Germany of taking legal refugees.

His predecessor, Manfred Kanther, helped push through a new common border
security standard for the 10 EU signatory countries of the Schengen
border-free zone.

****


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