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Germany Table of Contents


Ethnic Germans

Ethnic Germans have immigrated to Germany since the end of World War II. At first, these immigrants were Germans who had resided in areas that had formerly been German territory. Later, the offspring of German settlers who in previous centuries had settled in areas of Eastern Europe and Russia came to be regarded as ethnic Germans and as such had the right to German citizenship according to Article 116 of the Basic Law. Because they became citizens immediately upon arrival in Germany, ethnic Germans received much financial and social assistance to ease their integration into society. Housing, vocational training, and many other types of assistance, even language training--because many did not know the language of their forebears--were liberally provided.

With the gradual opening of the Soviet empire in the 1980s, the numbers of ethnic Germans coming to West Germany swelled. In the mid-1980s, about 40,000 came each year. In 1987 the number doubled and in 1988 doubled again. In 1990 nearly 400,000 ethnic Germans came to the Federal Republic. In the 1991-93 period, about 400,000 ethnic Germans settled in Germany. Since January 1993, immigration of ethnic Germans has been limited to 220,000 per year.

Because this influx could no longer be managed, especially because of the vast expense of unification, restrictions on the right of ethnic Germans to return to Germany became effective in January 1991. Under the new restrictions, once in Germany ethnic Germans are assigned to certain areas. If they leave these areas, they lose many of their benefits and are treated as if they were foreigners. The government has also established programs to encourage the estimated several million ethnic Germans who still live in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to remain there. Although ethnic Germans are entitled to German citizenship by virtue of their bloodlines, to many Germans they do not seem German, and their social integration has frequently been difficult.


To atone for the crimes of the Third Reich, Article 16/2 of West Germany's Basic Law offers liberal asylum rights to those suffering political persecution. Until the 1980s, relatively few refugees took advantage of this provision. But in the second half of the decade, a new class of "jet-age refugees" began to make its way to Europe and especially to West Germany, which accepted more than any other West European country. In the mid-1980s, many refugees came from Iran and Lebanon. By 1991 most refugees originated in regions of war-torn former Yugoslavia, Romania, or Turkey. From 1986 to 1989, about 380,000 refugees sought asylum inWest Germany. By comparison, in the 1990-92 period, nearly 900,000 people sought refuge in a united Germany.

Although only about 5 percent of requests for asylum are approved, slow processing and appeals mean that many refugees remain in Germany for years. Because financial aid is also provided for the refugees' living expenses, their presence has become a burden on federal and local government. The resulting social tensions made imperative an amendment to the constitutional provision regarding asylum. After heated debate, in 1993 the Bundestag passed legislation that amended the Basic Law and tightened restrictions on granting asylum. One important change is that asylum-seekers are no longer to be admitted into Germany if they have applied from a third country. In addition, more funds are to be allotted to processing applications, so that asylum-seekers remain in Germany for shorter periods.

Data as of August 1995