German ultra-right exploits refugee reception issue to foment domestic unrest and violence
Deutsche Welle (DW) reports that Germany is expecting a record high number of people to apply for asylum there this year. According to DW, the German Government is determined to only grant asylum to people actually fleeing ongoing wars, not to those whom they have termed "bogus" refugees from the Balkans.
Almost half of all those who apply for asylum in Germany are said to come from the Balkans, according to DW. Germany's general opinion of these asylum-seekers is that they are not actually fleeing any kind of persecution.
Right-wing extremists attack refugee facility
What began as a peaceful protest against the accommodation of asylum-seekers in a newly-opened refugee center in the town of Heidenau transformed into a violent clash between extremists and police officers in the early morning hours of 22 August,one of just three consecutive nights of unrest there. Heidenau is located approximately 30 kilometers north of the border with the Czech Republic, not far from Dresden.
Czech news server iDNES.cz reported that the protest began with an assembly by approximately 1 000 locals, who the magazine Der Spiegel reported were chanting outside the mayor's home that he is a "traitor to the people" for permitting the building of the facility. DW reported that the initiative was gradually seized by radical supporters of the ultra-right National Democratic Party (NPD).
The radicals attempted to blockade the highway that buses transporting refugees were supposed to use to access the facility. A clash with police ensued during which the extremists threw bottles, fireworks, and rocks at the officers.
Police used teargas and arrested dozens of people. There were also dozens of injuries sustained, including by officers.
The ultra-right demonstrators were ultimately dispersed and the first bus transporting refugees was then able to reach the center. Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Roth commented on the events as follows: "Sometimes one doesn't want to be a foreigner in our country - but sometimes one doesn't even want to be a German here. I am ashamed of the racists in Heidenau."
German Justice Minister Heiko Mass echoed that sentiment when he tweeted: "We must not permit any tolerance of racism and xenophobia here". German Chancellor Angela Merkel had also condemned previous attacks on residential hotels for refugees last week in an interview for the ZDF station.
"This is unworthy of our country and there is no justification for it," the Chancellor said. Germany has been clashing with Brussels, however, over what the EU's approach to the influx of refugees will be, according to the Czech News Agency.
Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) reports that Berlin would welcome a flexible response from the EU, a unified asylum policy for the European bloc, redistribution of refugees EU-wide and unification of the standards of care for refugees, and also claims that EU authorities are reacting too slowly to the crisis.
The European Commission (EC) rejects those allegations of its inactivity. "The EU's indecision [on this issue] is unbearable," declared German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Gerd Müller.
"We can only achieve success when we work together, not against one another," DPA cited the EC's response as stating. Highly-placed German politicians such as Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are also criticizing the current situation, in which the entire burden of the refugee crisis is being borne by just a few Member States.
Gabriel and Steinmeier are asking for the introduction of binding quotas for refugee reception, calibrated according to the options available in each country. Such quotas are a sensitive topic in Europe, where many Member States, including Britain and the Czech Republic, reject them and insist that their reception of refugees remain voluntary.
However, the Member States have not yet managed to agree on the voluntary basis for redistributing 60 000 migrants over the next two years. Müller is also asking the EU to approve a program of immediate aid worth more than EUR 10 billion through which the Member States on the EU's external borders will create emergency reception centers.
The Commission says legal and technical problems have arisen with those plans. Another problem Müller believes the EC should correct is the fact that each state takes a different approach toward refugees.
"In Germany we have proportionate humanitarian standards for [asylum-seekers'] allowances, accommodation, medical care, etc. Many EU countries have more limited standards. Dignified accommodation must be available for refugees in all EU states, not just Germany," he said.
Germany is grappling with an exceptionally large wave of refugees this year. Government prognoses predict that as many as 800 000 refugees will arrive in the country this year, four times as many as arrived in 2014.
As described above, the influx of refugees is sparking tensions in German society. The number of cases of arson committed against residential hotels for refugees is rising, as are demonstrations against their reception.
Merkel: This challenge is not overwhelming
The Czech News Agency has reported that the three nights of clashes in Heidenau also involved antifascists. DPA reported in the early morning hours of Monday, 24 August that antifascists had attacked a group of right-wing radicals near the refugee center.
Witnesses spoke of several injured persons. In the meantime, yet another residential hotel intended for asylum-seeker was set on fire elsewhere in southern Germany.
During peaceful demonstrations on Sunday, 23 August, roughly 250 anti-fascists demonstrated in front of the refugee center in Heidenau, calling out greetings to welcome the refugees when they finally made it there. The antifascists' first scuffles with neo-Nazis did not happen until they left the center for the train station.
Police officers accompanying the demonstrators used teargas against the neo-Nazis. Despite those clashes, the situation in the town on the Elbe River was calm the next day, although still tense, according to police.
Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel announced he would be visiting Heidenau on Monday the 24th. German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel reported online that he would be the first cabinet member to visit the town and assess the situation.
Gabriel was scheduled to meet with Mayor Jürgen Opitz and with the state's Deputy PM, Martin Dulig. The clashes between antifascists and right-wing extremists in front of the refugee center during the early morning hours of Sunday involved approximately 150 extreme-right adherents throwing bottles and firecrackers, according to DPA.
Police were then deployed using defensive shields and began to clear the street. Approximately 150 left-wing demonstrators were facing off against the right-wing radicals at the time, which each camp on the opposite side of the main road.
Approximately 120 new refugees arrived at the facility in four busloads and made it to the building without any problem. The previous night people had protested against the anticipated arrival of approximately 250 people there.
Several hundred people blocked the access road to the building (a former construction materials store) and verbally insulted the asylum-seekers, throwing bottles, fireworks and rocks at police. That protest resulted in more than 10 injured.
The largest group of refugees currently making it to Germany are Syrians. Chancellor Merkel has said that while the reception of hundreds of thousands of immigrants is a big challenge for Germany, the country is not being overwhelmed by the refugee wave and managing the current refugee crisis is yet another "big European project" that will show whether Europe is actually capable of coordinated action.
Neo-Nazis urinate on children in Berlin
The Czech News Agency reported on 25 August that two right-wing extremists attacked a woman with children and racially insulted them on a train in the suburbs of Berlin; the victims were probably from Eastern Europe. The Bild.de news server and DPA reported that one of the perpetrators urinated on the children.
The neo-Nazis were arrested and police are said to currently be looking for their victims. Both men arrested, aged 32 and 37, had previously committed extremist crimes, according to Federal Police who were called to the scene by witnesses to the incident.
The children, aged approximately five and 15, and the woman continued on to their destination after the perpetrators were apprehended. Police are now investigating the two extremists on suspicion of bodily harm, defamation, and the use of banned symbols.
According to Bild.de, the incident occurred on Saturday evening, when both drunken men entered the S41 train at the Landsberger Allee station. They began to shout xenophobic slogans at the family.
Police measured their blood alcohol levels at 1.79 and 2.31. They were both released on their own recognizance.
The rail company has banned the pair from using the train system for one year. Frank Henkel, the Interior Minister for the state of Berlin, expressed his horror over the incident.
"I thought I had heard it all in this job. This is an especially distasteful, repugnant case," the Christian Democratic politician said.
German Social Democrats receive bomb threat over position on refugee reception
The Czech News Agency reported on 26 August that the German Social Democrats (SPD) are grappling with a series of threatening e-mails flooding the party headquarters after Vice-Chancellor Gabriel, the SPD chair, condemned violence against refugees in Germany. On Tuesday afternoon police briefly evacuated the party headquarters after an anonymous telephone caller threatened a bomb attack on the SPD.
During his visit to Heidenau on Monday, Gabriel condemned the unrest there, calling those involved in it a "mob" and urging the courts to harshly punish similar actions. "Ever since Sigmar Gabriel visited Heidenau, the Willy Brandt House (the SPD headquarters) has been flooded with threats using hateful slogans against refugees," Secretary-General Yasmin Fahimi told journalists on 26 August.
Those threats culminated in the anonymous bomb threat on Tuesday afternoon. Police evacuated the headquarters for roughly an hour but found no dangerous objects.
In addition to the e-mail threats, Fahimi said anonymous callers were cursing party representatives. She said many of the curses and threats were racially-tinged.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziére expressed the conviction on 26 August that most Germans are open to receiving refugees. "It is repugnant how neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists are attempting to disseminate their stupid, violent message using the issue of accommodation facilities for refugees," State Secretary Steffen Seibert said, adding that Chancellor Merkel considers it mortifying that some people, even families with children, are beginning to express support for the behavior of extreme-right adherents.
Germany has stopped applying the common European asylum policy to Syrians and will not be returning them to the countries in which they first entered the EU as that policy dictates. Instead, Germany will begin deciding whether to grant them asylum right away.
News server Spiegel online reported that change yesterday, referring to new internal regulations of the Federal Authority for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). The new directive just upholds the legality of the practice that has been engaged in by German authorities in recent months, Spiegel online reports.
From January through the end of July approximately 44 000 Syrians requested asylum in Germany. According to Interior Ministry data, Germany has returned only 131 of them to the countries where they first entered the EU.
The Commission has welcomed Berlin's position and noted that Germany is the first EU Member State to adopt such a decision. "We welcome this act of European solidarity," the EC spokesperson told the DPA, adding that Germany's approach reveals that it is not possible to leave the full burden of the current refugee wave just on the states at the EU's external border.
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