Opening of the Borders in Eastern Europe and the USSR

1991

Germany

Borders Migrations

The opening of the borders of Eastern Europe and the collapse of the USSR prompt many to migrate into Germany, above in the newly integrated territories formerly belonging to the East German state.

In the early 1990s, numerous people from Eastern European states (Bulgaria, Albania, Romania, Poland) as well as several African countries (Senegal, Ghana) attempted to travel into Germany over its eastern border. Gradually, Germany tightened its border security and asylum restrictions, so that many had to enter the country illegally.

Legal entry and settlement was granted to Soviet Jews even by the East German state, in response to the mounting incidence of anti-semitic pogroms in the USSR.

Following German reunification, the minister presidents of the German states resolved to take in further Jewish migrants from the Soviet Union as so-called “contingent refugees”. Contingent refugees enjoyed certain privileges vis-à-vis other migrants in terms of settlement status and dual citizenship. Within the following ten years, more than 20,000 Jews arrived in Germany from the former USSR. In 2005 and 2006 the conditions of settlement were tightened, introducing as requirements proof of invitation and sponsorship by a Jewish congregation in Germany and a declaration that one would not draw on social benefits beyond a certain period.

Also settled in greater numbers in Germany following its reunification were ethnic German emigrants from Eastern European territories that had, prior to the Second World War, belonged to the German Reich or contained German populations [see: Passage of the Federal Law on Refugees and Exiles in the Federal Republic of Germany, 1953]. Initially, these emigrants came predominantly from Poland and Romania. However, the Gorbachev era, the introduction of the Perestroika and Glasnost reforms, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 led to the departure of 1.9 million such emigrants from the USSR and the CIS successor states over the period 1988-1999. Upon arrival in Germany, they were distributed amongst both the old and the newly integrated German states, and on the basis of their special status as “ethnic Germans” enjoyed a privileged position. They thus received state social assistance in the search for work and accommodation and in language instruction.