Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Germany sees rise in crimes against refugees

Authorities seem unable to stop upswing in attacks against refugees as support for anti-immigration party increases

Arson attacks on refugee shelters, assaults, swastikas sprayed on walls — as Germany has taken in record numbers of asylum seekers, it has been rocked by a xenophobic backlash that authorities have appeared unable to stop.

With 1 million asylum seekers expected in the EU's most populous nation this year, about half of them from Syria, Chancellor Angela Merkel has rallied Germans to welcome the newcomers and vowed to crack down on hatemongers.

While vast numbers of Germans have volunteered to help refugees, there has also been a rise in anti-foreigner sentiment that has buoyed the populist and anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere once again warned last week that the rise in hate crimes, ranging from property destruction to attempted murder, was "shocking and unacceptable."

In September, Merkel — who endured xenophobic protesters' slurs during a visit to a refugee shelter — vowed that attacks targeting asylum seekers would be punished "with the full force of the law."

Yet, according to a survey by news weekly Die Zeit, of the 222 most serious attacks on shelters reported this year, only four cases have resulted in convictions so far. "If the state really wants to 'act with the full force of the law,' it should do considerably more," it wrote.

It pointed to insufficient resources dedicated to investigations and to a frequent lack of solid evidence, as many shelters are in thinly populated areas.

"The fact that there have been no deaths yet is plain luck," said Timo Reinfrank of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which aids refugees and works to counter neo-Nazism, right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism.

Racist attacks in Germany have multiplied, especially since the summer, which saw a surge of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers arrive via the Balkans and Austria in just a few weeks.

From June to September, Germany recorded an average of three xenophobic acts a day against refugee facilities, according to government figures provided to lawmakers.

"This violence is not only committed by neo-Nazis," said Reinfrank. "It is perpetrated increasingly by supposedly concerned citizens who give vent to their racism."

At Crimmitschau in the former East Germany, three people were detained last week for throwing Molotov cocktails in November at the walls of a shelter where 45 people were sleeping, including 20 children. In Eggesin, another town in the east, two Afghans were assaulted in the past week.

These crimes are but the latest in a long list collated by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation and Pro Asyl, another organization helping refugees.

Every day, they say, somewhere in Germany a hate crime is committed — from insults hurled at refugees to swastikas daubed on shelters to protesters trying to block buses carrying refugees.

Fanning the flames and raging against Muslims has been the far-right street movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), which has drawn thousands of people to weekly rallies in the eastern city of Dresden.

In parliamentary politics, senior members of Alternative for Germany have voiced sympathy for PEGIDA's goals and seen support rise above 10 percent in many polls.

Authorities and nongovernment groups fear that things may get worse in the wake of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, despite their pleas not to confuse Syrian refugees and attackers.

The extreme right "feels very comforted," said the head of German domestic intelligence, Hans-Georg Maassen, in the Tagesspiegel daily. He said that "it blames the policies and the chancellor and even the media" and argues that "the open borders policy is the cause of what is happening."

With several regional elections on the calendar in 2016, including two in eastern states, some fear a right-wing populist breakthrough at the ballot box, a year before national parliamentary elections.

Wire services

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter