German free-meals charity bars new migrant clients

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Refugees, mainly rejected asylum seekers, hold a banner reading 'Justice we need' as they face police officers at a train station in southern Germany

A German food bank said Thursday it would temporarily stop accepting new non-German clients, citing a huge influx of migrants that was displacing locals in need.

"We want the German granny to be able to keep coming to us," said Joerg Sartor, chairman of the charitable group that serves free meals to the poor in the western city of Essen.

He said especially German elderly people and single mothers had been gradually displaced over the past two years as the share of migrants had risen to three-quarters of recipients.

More than 1.2 million asylum seekers have come to Europe's biggest economy since 2015, more than half from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, in mass influx that sparked a xenophobic backlash.

The website of the "Essener Tafel" charity said it had taken the step in order to avoid frictions between needy locals and foreigners that could harm acceptance of the newcomers.

"Since the number of foreign citizens among our clients has risen to 75 percent in recent years ... we are forced to only accept customers with German identity cards in order to facilitate proper integration," it said.

The charity announced the change in December and implemented it in mid-January, but it was only widely reported on Thursday, initially by the newspaper Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ).

The group, like hundreds of similar charities nationwide, collects surplus food that would otherwise be discarded by supermarkets and other businesses to prepare and serve it to the poor.

Typically, people have to register to qualify for regular free meals by proving that they are recipients of unemployment or other social benefits.

Sartor told the WAZ daily that his charity would maintain the additional demand that new clients show German identity papers to register "until the balance is restored".