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Novelist slams German policy of putting refugees in prison

FRANKFURT, Oct. 20 (JTA) – Germany’s policy of deporting refugees is an expression of latent xenophobia, according to the novelist Gunter Grass. Speaking at a ceremony held here Sunday honoring Turkish novelist Yesar Kemal, Grass said that more than 4,000 refugees, primarily from Turkey, Algeria and Nigeria, have been put in prison pending deportation, although they have committed no crimes. “We are all inactive witnesses of a renewed barbarism, which this time is democratically sanctioned,” Grass told his audience, which included high-ranking officials of Germany’s ruling conservative government. Grass accused the government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl of delivering weapons to the Turkish government, which he says is conducting a war of extermination against the Kurds. He also called on the German government to give citizenship to Turkish-born guest workers, many of whom have lived in Germany for decades. Kemal, who was this year’s recipient of the prestigious Peace Prize of the German Book Trade Association, was honored for his dedication to human rights – specifically his outspoken defense of Kurdish cultural independence – and for his commitment to the victims of persecution. In his acceptance speech, Kemal accused the German government of treating the 2 million Turks living in Germany – the country’s largest minority – as third-class citizens. A German government spokesman dismissed Grass’s comments as “unbelievable assertions,” adding that Germany had accepted more refugees from the Bosnian civil war than any other European country. But observers noted that this asylum is only temporary, since most Bosnian war refugees in Germany are expected to return to their home country during the next three years. Germany accepts applications for political asylum filed by refugees coming from a limited number of countries where Germany considers there to be a risk of political persecution. Most requests are rejected. Grass, who has frequently spoken out against right-wing tendencies in Germany, is the author of works including “The Tin Drum,” one of the best-known novels written in German dealing with the country’s Nazi past.