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Resentment against the Support for East German Refugees (January 22, 1990)

The generous material aid given to a seemingly endless stream of GDR refugees, combined with the strain caused by ethnic German remigrants and asylum seekers, created widespread popular resentment, not least because housing in the Federal Republic was already scarce, two million West Germans were already unemployed, and social insurance funds were running dry. Therefore, some politicians recommended cutting back the support given to ethnic German remigrants and GDR refugees to reduce expenditures.

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“Circuit Overload”

At least 500,000 GDR citizens will resettle in the Federal Republic this year; hundreds of thousands of people are coming from the Eastern bloc countries. Who is supposed to pay for these immigrants? The fight for jobs and apartments is getting tougher; enormous additional demands are being placed on pension and health insurance funds.

[ . . . ]

The initial enthusiasm over the opening of the border is subsiding; the joy that brings tears to the eyes is giving way to a soberer look at what intra-German freedom of movement will cost the affluent Western state. [ . . . ]

The figures on new citizens are being added up and are leading to worrisome projections. At the moment, as many as 2,000 East Germans are moving to West Germany every day. Authorities in Bonn no longer rule out the possibility that more than a half million East German resettlers [Übersiedler] could come to the West over the course of the year. If the economic situation in the GDR remains as dismal as it is at the moment, or gets even worse, then the stream of migrants could still increase considerably.

On top of this are the people from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union who are moving to the supposed paradise of the Federal Republic. All told, West Germany will gain a million citizens, at the very least, this year on account of ethnic German remigrants from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union [Aussiedler] and East German resettlers. The number for 1989 was already at 720,000.

Fears are growing that those who can now cross the border with ease will overtax the strength of even the rich Federal Republic; that the social welfare system, that the job and housing markets will prove no match for the onslaught; that the country’s hard-won prosperity will be threatened.

Who will fill the government coffers used to pay for university grants, welfare benefits, and integration assistance for the newcomers from the East? Will a social network that is already stretched to the limit be able to withstand the additional pressure of millions of ethnic German remigrants and resettlers?

There were already heaps of problems even without the most recent wave of immigrants, even before the opening of the border. Bonn politicians were caught totally unawares when the housing market turned around in 1987-88. Empty residences in the social ghettos on the outskirts of the cities were suddenly filled with people again; the demand exceeded the supply. By now, there is an oppressive housing shortage, not only in big cities, but also in many smaller cities and towns as well.

The labor market has been out of kilter for years. The Federal Republic has lived with roughly two million registered unemployed since 1983. Even the “super boom” of recent years hasn’t been able to rectify the shortage of paid jobs.

Last but not least, there’s the social welfare system. We all remember well that its restructuring – even without the new citizens – was considered the most significant political task of this legislative period. It took a grand coalition of Christian Democrats, Liberals, and Social Democrats to secure the pension scheme, at least into the next millennium.

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