Refugees live in fear of xeno­pho­bia in Ger­many

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY DAMIEN STROKA

It’s an as­ton­ish­ing state­ment for a refugee from war-torn Syria, but Ta­her has had enough of the xeno­pho­bia he has ex­pe­ri­enced in Ger­many.

“I want to re­turn to Syria — very afraid here,” he said this week, speak­ing out­side a refugee cen­ter in the small eastern town of Fre­ital, which has gained na­tional no­to­ri­ety for ugly protests against asy­lum seek­ers.

Since ar­riv­ing a month ago, af­ter a long odyssey, the 27-year-old said he was at­tacked by a group that piled out of a car and hit him.

Speak­ing with AFP, he showed a let­ter, writ­ten in Ger­man and Ara­bic, in which he with­draws his ap­pli­ca­tion for po­lit­i­cal asy­lum.

“I come from Syria be­cause I was afraid — but here big afraid,” said Ta­her, who did not want to give his full name, speak­ing in halt­ing English.

Ger­many, strug­gling with a huge in­flux of refugees, has been gripped by a spate of anti-for­eign­ers ral­lies, vi­o­lence and ar­son at­tacks against refugee homes or would-be shel­ters.

The coun­try now faces a para­dox: a gen­er­ous asy­lum sys­tem orig­i­nally meant to help atone for its Nazi past has opened the gates to Europe’s big­gest in­flux of refugees — spark­ing ugly re­ac­tions that re­call Ger­many’s dark­est days.

This

year has

al­ready seen about 200 ar­son and other at­tacks against refugee hous­ing — roughly the same as all of last year, when num­bers were al­ready up sharply.

In re­cent days Fre­ital — an eco­nom­i­cally de­pressed town of 40,000 in Sax­ony state in what was once com­mu­nist East Ger­many — has be­come a sym­bol of the up­surge in hos­til­ity.

In protests against the im­mi­nent ar­rival of 280 refugees out­side a con­verted ho­tel, neo-Nazis raised their arms in Hitler salutes, min­gling in larger crowds of peo­ple shout­ing “crim­i­nal for­eign­ers” and “asy­lum seeker pigs.”

Stick­ers on lamp­posts ad­vise the refugees to “keep flee­ing,” with the English-lan­guage mes-

sage “Refugees not welcome.”

‘Dark brown’

The new­com­ers are part of a wave of a record 500,000 refugees ex­pected this year in Europe’s largest econ­omy, flee­ing war and poverty in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, African na­tions and re­ces­sion-stricken Balkan coun­tries.

Across Ger­many, vol­un­teers have given food, clothes, toys and Ger­man lessons in over-crowded refugee camps, some of which house thou­sands in con­verted sports halls, for­mer mil­i­tary bases and even tent cities.

But the un­prece­dented in­flux has also sparked a darker, xeno- pho­bic re­sponse — marked by the rise of the “Pa­tri­otic Euro­peans Against the Is­lamiza­tion of the Oc­ci­dent,” or PEGIDA, move­ment in Dres­den, where ral­lies peaked early this year at 25,000.

Dres­den — a mag­net for neoNazi groups em­bit­tered by the city’s war- time de­struc­tion — again made head­lines last week when far-right thugs at­tacked Red Cross staff set­ting up a tent city for 800 mostly Syr­ian refugees.

Hun­dreds of pro-refugee ac­tivists on Fri­day clashed with sup­port­ers of the far-right NPD party, leav­ing three peo­ple in­jured.

Lead­ing the charge in Fre­ital, near Dres­den, is one of PEGIDA’s clone groups, which goes by the lo­cal­ized acro­nym of FRIGIDA and pledges online that “our town will stay clean — Fre­ital is free.”

Fre­ital has seen shout­ing matches and clashes be­tween proand anti-asy­lum ac­tivists since June.

This week, ten­sions es­ca­lated when un­known as­sailants blew up the un­oc­cu­pied car of a prorefugee politi­cian of the far-left Linke party, Michael Richter.

“The sit­u­a­tion is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly tense ... Fre­ital is deeply di­vided,” said St­effi Brach­tel, 40, who helps or­ga­nize an­tiFRIGIDA ral­lies.

She said Fre­ital had turned “brown” — a ref­er­ence to Nazi uni­forms — af­ter the Ber­lin Wall fell in 1989, but that it was now “turn­ing dark brown.”

AFP

Protesters hold­ing a ban­ner that says “Open Your Mind — Stop Racism” de­mand hu­mane and safe con­di­tions for refugees in Ger­many dur­ing a pro-asy­lum demo in Dres­den, eastern Ger­many, Tues­day, July 28.

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