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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Un été de violences xénophobes en Allemagne

by Alix Vinégla

A summer of xenophobic violence in Germany

Translated Saturday 5 September 2015, by Carly Coulter

A refugee centre located in Heidenau (Saxony) was the target of violent anti-immigration protests last weekend. The confrontations between the far-right groups and the German police have resulted in several injuries on 22 August.

While visiting the site, Angela Merkel was booed by the far-right protestors. These acts must be seen in the light of daily xenophobic violence in Germany.

This summer, Germany has been the scene of several acts of xenophobic violence toward refugees: in Freital, Dresden, and now in Heidenau. In this small town of less than 20,000 inhabitants, situated along the Elbe River, for two consecutive nights, Friday and Saturday, far-right militants wanted to block the arrival of buses carrying refugees to the new welcome centre. 250 refugees are to be accommodated in this new centre, converted from an old and empty hardware shop.

“A wave of hatred”

Each night, roads were blocked, stones, bottles and fire-crackers were thrown at the police, of whom more than 30 were wounded at the height of the protests, which involved some 1,000 people Friday night. The situation worsened Friday night, when 30 police officers were wounded during the conflict between law enforcement and the protestors, some in a drunken state, giving the Nazi salute. According to the press, far-right militants belonging to the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) joined the gathering, chanting xenophobic slogans. The German Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière, condemned the attacks on the refugees. “At the same time that we see a wave of people who want to help (the refugees), we are also seeing a wave of hate, of insults, and of violence aimed at asylum seekers”, he told the German daily newspaper Bild am Sonntag. “It is obscene and beneath the dignity of our country. There is no tolerance for xenophobia and racism”, he added, promising that the perpetrators of these acts would be punishable by law.

Tuesday, in Berlin, the headquarters for the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) was evacuated due to a bomb threat after its president Sigmar Gabriel visited Heidenau. That same day, in Nauen, a small town in Brandenburg, situated 20km northwest of the German capital, a gymnasium was destroyed due to a suspicious fire, according to German police. The site was due to serve as a local urgent care centre for 130 refugees as of September.

Rise of the far-right

Such scenes echo those that occurred this summer a few kilometres away, in Freital and Dresden. In July, in Freital, a number of protests occurred regarding the accommodation of 280 asylum-seekers in an old hotel. Pro- and anti-refugee had to be separated by police. At the end of July, the protests stopped. But in front of the centre, guarded by security guards, stickers on the lampposts still invite the refugees to “continue fleeing”. Some refugees, fear-stricken in the face of the increase in attacks, are forced to flee. Arriving in June, Tahir, 27, withdrew his asylum application. He explained that he was attacked in the town. “Very scared. I came from Syria because (I was) scared, but here, I’m even more scared (…) I’m going back”, he told Agence France-Presse (AFP) in rudimentary English.

In Dresden, the capital of Saxony, the movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident (Pegida), hostile towards Islam and refugees, has been holding protests one after another since autumn. Defenders of the right to asylum and volunteers for the Red Cross were attacked in July, during a protest by the neo-Nazi party NPD in opposition to an encampment of tents sheltering refugees.

“No tolerance” from Germany

Wednesday, the German Chancellor paid a visit to Heidenau for a few hours, visiting the refugee centre where the far-right protests took place. “It must be said clearly: there is no tolerance toward those who cast doubt on the dignity of others”, declared Chancellor Merkel, describing the far-right violence which took place in the town as “shameful” and “despicable”. “If the majority of people could make clear statements (…) through their work, but also in conversations with close friends and family, we would be stronger and better equipped to deal with this task” of welcoming the refugees, she added. Upon her arrival on site midday, the Chancellor was greeted by boos and honking horns from some 200 German protestors, far-right sympathisers, organised on the other side of the road from the refugee centre. They chanted “traitor” and “we are the hounds” at the Chancellor.

In response to the massive arrival of refugees, the German government has already announced measures to be taken. Berlin announced Tuesday the halt to sending Syrians back towards their country of entrance to the EU. This is the “only case that we are aware of among the member states”, the spokeswoman for the European Commission, Natasha Bertaud, commented from Brussels. This gesture “constitutes an acknowledgement of the fact that we can’t leave those member states located on the exterior borders to handle the exceptional influx of refugees, like Greece or Italy”, continued Spokeswoman Bertaud.

The German government will double its contribution this year to the municipal budget that deals with the influx of refugees. On Wednesday, Angel Merkel’s government adopted a bill planning to bring forward by one year the payment of 500 million euros that was meant for allocation in 2016, therefore doubling the German government’s contribution to the municipal budget dealing with the influx of refugees.

Germany, the European country with the largest number of immigrants, expects to receive 800,000 asylum applications this year, four-times more than the usual number. Schengen Area member states are due to meet in Vienna on Thursday for the Western Balkans Summit, during which Austria is to propose a “Europe-wide asylum strategy ”.

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