Racist attacks give way to solidarity in Germany


On 1 September, at the close of Berlin’s offices for the registration of asylum requests, dozens of refugees wait in front of the entrance for the buses coming to take them to emergency accommodation. There are families, men on their own, teenagers too. “We hope there will be enough accommodation for everyone this evening. It’s not always the case,” explains a young volunteer from a neighbourhood association.

Since August authorities in Berlin have been flooded with new arrivals, some of whom have to queue in front of the building for days to be able to register their application and subsequently benefit from initial assistance.

The task of distributing food and clothing to the new arrivals has been taken on by a local citizens initiative and social organisations. Similar initiatives have been set up in all the neighbourhoods accommodating refugees, in Berlin and all across Germany.

A large citizens’ solidarity movement has taken over from the authorities, welcoming many of the the hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge in Germany this year. It’s an effort that continues despite the recent reinforcement of the country’s borders.

Over 210,000 asylum requests were registered between January and July, already more than for the whole of 2014 and four times more than in 2011. Over 20 per cent were submitted by Syrians and 10 per cent by Iraqis or Afghanis.

The proportion of Syrians was even higher in July, when over 80,000 refugees entered the country. Not all of them have as yet been able to apply for asylum.

The German government expects to receive 800,000 asylum requests during 2015 alone – four times more than last year.

All around the country, emergency accommodation is being arranged to receive the new arrivals. The German government has also decided to allocate an extra six billion euros from its 2016 budget to meet the need for additional structures to receive asylum seekers.

The upsurge in solidarity shown by Germany’s citizens stands in sharp contrast with the recent wave of racist attacks against refugee shelters across the country. On 15 July, a building being renovated to house refugees was burned down in Bavaria.

A few days later, the same happened in Baden-Württemberg, in the south west of the country. At the end of June, it was in Lübeck in the north, then in Saxony.

Also in Saxony, in Heidenau, right-wing extremists staged riots during mid-August in protest at a new shelter for refugees.

Anti-racist organisations Amadeu-Antonio-Stiftung and Pro-Asyl have recorded 98 attacks against refugee shelters since the beginning of 2015, including 11 acts of arson. Last year, there had already been close to 250 violent attacks on lodgings for asylum seekers, including 36 fires and 81 physical assaults.

“There has been a sharp increase in the number of attacks registered against refugee shelters this year,” points out Anetta Kahane, founder and chair of the Amadeu-Antonio-Stiftung foundation.

“The anti-Islam demonstrations of the Pegida movement last autumn erased all inhibition,” Kahane laments. The country had already seen a wave of racist violence at the beginning of the 1990s, mainly in former East Germany. “But compared with the situation at the time, the solidarity people are now showing towards refugees is truly remarkable.”

Will this citizens’ solidarity movement be followed by the policymakers? Having let in tens of thousands of refugees stranded in Hungary in early September, the German government decided to turn to reintroduce border controls to control the flow of applicants for asylum. Despite this, those who come nevertheless remain hosted in accommodation centers across the country.