BONN (May. 14)
Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has made clear that Soviet Jews coming to Germany from Israel are considered Israeli nationals, not refugees from the Soviet Union, and will be treated accordingly.
Schauble drew the distinction in a letter, made public Monday, to authorities in Berlin, where some 250 Soviet Jews of 300 who arrived from Israel in January are seeking permission to stay.
He warned of the consequences of establishing a precedent whereby Israeli citizens would be treated as refugees from the Soviet Union.
Such a move would kick off protests in Israel and complicate Germany’s delicate relations with that country, Schaeuble wrote.
Therefore, the special arrangements that apply to Jews seeking to immigrate to Germany directly from the Soviet Union cannot apply to the Berlin group, the interior minister wrote.
The members of the group said they came to Berlin to escape Iraqi Scud missile attacks on Israel during the Persian Gulf War.
But they refused to return when their temporary visas expired in March, saying they had been unable to adjust to life in Israel and preferred to stay in Berlin.
Germany, meanwhile, is taking measures to discourage the immigration of other Soviet Jews.
The Interior Ministry made a retroactive announcement Monday that, effective May 1, Soviet nationals arriving in Germany without immigration papers would have the status of tourists and be ineligible for permanent residence.
Although the regulation has been in effect since February, it was not enforced until now, the ministry said, because many Soviet Jews arriving in the country were uninformed or misinformed about their status.
Soviet Jews seeking to immigrate to Germany must now apply for immigrant visas at German consulates in the Soviet Union. To qualify, they must prove German origin or have relatives in Germany.
So far, the consulates have received nearly 3,000 applications from Soviet Jews. The Interior Ministry said it is being processed slowly and that there are no plans to accelerate the process.
The Israeli Embassy, meanwhile, has exerted considerable pressure on the Berlin group to return to Israel. The German authorities also hope for their departure but refuse to expel them.
According to the latest reports, a few of the Soviet Jews who had come from Israel agreed to return to Tel Aviv, after being assured they could apply in Israel for re-entry into Germany.
But most of the group say they will remain in Berlin and continue to fight for legal status.