No German passport, no free food


The German charity Essener Tafel claims its decision to bar foreigners from receiving free food has nothing to do with xenophobia, however, such a step says otherwise.

Essener Tafel, an NGO, serves about 16,000 poor people in the city of Essen, an industrial hub in the west. But in the wake of what the food bank says is its resources being stretched to the limit, the charity recently decided to lessen its generosity. No German passport, no free food.

Essener Tafel officials said the policy is not xenophobic but rather a response to a food-shortage crisis. That claim is dubious. For one, like hundreds of other German food banks, Essener Tafel collects surplus food at or past its sell-by date, which would otherwise be thrown away. That food that would have been discarded by supermarkets, stores and restaurants is in the tons, surely more than enough to feed the poor of Essen, Germans and non-Germans, many times over.

The charity says they changed the rules because 75 percent of people who pick up food are foreigners, a number the board considers too high. But if indeed not many Germans are picking up the food, how should that be the fault of the immigrants?

To be fair to Essener Tafel, some immigrants picking up the food show up late for their pick-up time and then try to cut in line. Apparently, a large number of local elderly women and single mothers in need have stopped coming in for food because the foreigners had created an “increasingly aggressive” atmosphere that scared locals. Some migrants seem to share a “give-me gene” and could not understand Germany’s “queuing culture”. Vandalism of Essener Tafel outlets is also getting volunteers too frightened to come to their shifts.

German police should be able to take care of the vandals while those who break lines and disrespect the kind of order that Germans are known for should face punitive measures. Few immigrants who had such a hard time leaving their country, then entering Germany, then finding a job and lodgings and a school for their children will readily give all this up if the punishment for not waiting patiently for their turn can go all the way from food suspension to arrests to deportation.

Even though Essener Tafel is one of the biggest charities in Germany, no other German charitable organization has said that it will ban foreigners from receiving aid.

And, being one of Europe’s wealthiest and most economically-stable countries, it’s hard to imagine how a country as rich as Germany is arguing about who gets leftover groceries.

It’s not only foreigners who are criticizing the Essener Tafel decision. Other Tafel branches from across Germany have condemned the step and some critics are calling the rule racist. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel has chimed in, opining that nationality cannot be a selection criterion for food aid.

Essener Tafel says the ban was only supposed to last for six to eight weeks. But now, after the outcry that ensued, the Essen branch is to review its policy within the next two weeks. The announcement that the ban was only temporary was made immediately after local media got wind of the ban, the story blew up and the controversy erupted. Maybe the ban was not initially meant to be temporary. Maybe it started out as being permanent.

It’s unfortunate that this charity which Germans should be proud of has created a situation that sows doubts about what should be noble intentions.