Melissa Eddy, New York Times, August 13, 2015
Even as Germany has been trying to accommodate a swelling stream of newcomers, the most anywhere in Europe, it is also experiencing a persistent pattern of violence against migrants, raising concerns about escalating far-right opposition.
Rights activists who monitor the treatment of refugees say while they are seeing an increase in hate crimes across Europe, particularly targeting Roma or asylum-seekers from Europe’s poorest countries, nowhere have they seen mass demonstrations or the kinds of arson attacks and other vandalism at housing for refugees like those in Germany.
In the first half of this year alone, more than 179,000 people applied for asylum in Germany, a country of about 80 million. That is an increase of 132 percent over the same period in 2014, with Syrians the largest group, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees said.
During the same period, the Interior Ministry recorded 202 attacks on housing for asylum-seekers, including attempts to render shelters uninhabitable through arson, attacks with stones or other vandalism. In addition, a group called Courage Against the Right cites 48 attacks on individuals, based on local police records.
Some of the episodes, such as the arson attacks in the Bavarian town of Vorra and in the eastern town of Tröglitz, have received widespread attention. But there have been many others, including one in Lunzenau in Saxony on July 29, when vandals broke into and deliberately flooded an empty shelter for 50 asylum-seekers by opening the taps in the bathrooms.
That same night, in nearby Dresden, a group of 50 people staged a demonstration against a tent city, hastily set up by the state to temporarily shelter hundreds of asylum-seekers. The Courage Against the Right group has counted 89 such demonstrations this year, many organized by local groups with names like Freital Defends Itself that have sprung up in cities and towns where empty office buildings and hotels have been converted into hostels for new arrivals.
But since a group called Pegida, the German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, grew from a cluster of friends into a movement, with organized demonstrations that attracted thousands to weekly marches through Dresden, German security officials have seen more attempts by neo-Nazis to use unease over the migrants to further incite hatred.
Weeks of protests outside the former Leonardo Hotel in Freital, which was converted to housing for asylum-seekers, finally ended last week when the police here in Freital banned another demonstration. Since then the situation has calmed, but red-and-white police tape still flutters across the street from the hostel, which houses people from Albania, Morocco and Syria.