18th Mar 2018

Xenophobic violence 'shames' Germany

  • German police with pepper spray (Photo: Fabian Bromann)

Several hundred people from the small town of Nauen, in north-east Germany, marched in protest on Tuesday (25 August) with signs which said “refugees welcome”, after a gym, supposed to house 100 migrants next month, was burnt down on Monday.

Between 300 and 500 protesters sent the message of solidarity.

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But recent reports from the EU’s biggest member state send out different messages.

The people who set the Nauen gym on fire haven't been caught, but the prime minister of the state of Brandenburg, which contains Nauen, has said he’s almost sure the motive was xenophobia.

“All other [possible motives] can be considered as very, very great coincidences”, Dietmar Woidke, who also announced a “zero tolerance” policy on hate crime, told press.

The Nauen arson is one of several recent attacks.

Last weekend, an anti-asylum seeker protest in Heidenau, a small town in east Germany, also turned violent.

The neo-Nazi National Democratic Party rally, on Friday, began peacefully. But people later threw stones at police and refugees on their way to a shleter, with police using pepper spray against the crowd.

Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the violence on Monday.

But the centre-right leader was criticised for waiting for two days, prompting a popular hashtag - #merkelschweigt, meaning “Merkel stays silent”.

Merkel said the Heidenau violence was “shameful”.

“There was an aggressive mood against foreigners, which isn't acceptable in any way”, she noted.

“It's equally shameful how citizens, even families with children, support this by marching along”.

The chancellor, and German president Joachin Gauck, are visiting Heidenau on Wednesday.

Far-right violence is on the rise in several EU states. But Germany’s WWII history gives it special resonance.

The popularity of anti-migrant and anti-Islamic groups such as NPD, Pegida, or the Alternative for Germany party, comes amid a surge in migrant arrivals.

Up until 2011, France topped the EU list.

But since 2012, Germany is the country of choice for asylum seekers.

The number of applications was 109,580 in 2013 and 173,070 in 2014. It’s expected to reach 800,000 this year.

Germany's vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has called the situation Germany's “biggest challenge since reunification”, in 1990.

Merkel, on Monday, also called for the EU to overhaul its asylum laws to share the burden more evenly.

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