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HAD ENOUGH: Germany on edge after numerous attacks against muslim refugees

Germany_Protests-0db99People take part in an Aug. 5 demonstration by the right-wing organization Initiative Heimatschutz against the German asylum law and asylum-seekers in Meissen in eastern Germany. (Jens Meyer/Associated Press)

MEISSEN, Germany — In a gesture of German goodwill, the administration in this medieval city leased a newly renovated apartment building here to humanely — even comfortably — house dozens of desperate ­asylum-seekers. The newcomers from Syria and other war-
ravaged nations would enjoy freshly redone floors, cute balconies and shiny, modern appliances in a cheerful building near a timber-framed pub.

Then Meissen’s goodwill went up in smoke.

On a cool night six weeks ago, suspected right-wing arsonists struck the building, scorching its interior and rendering it uninhabitable days before the ­asylum-seekers were to move in. The attack added Meissen, a gothic castle town of 30,000 on the Elbe River, to a string of German cities caught up in an escalating rash of violence against refugees.

The acts include an ugly spate of arson targeting refugee centers as well as physical attacks on refugees themselves, marking the return of what critics say is an unnerving brand of xenophobia to Western Europe’s most populous nation.

German news anchor Claus Kleber of ZDF television welled up as he told the story of a Bavarian bus driver who welcomed 15 refugees on his bus with this announcement: “I have an important message for people from the whole world in this bus: Welcome!” (The Washington Post)

The attacks are undercutting Germany’s image as the country leading the effort to aid a record flow of refugees into Europe, highlighting the rising social tensions in the region amid the avalanche of asylum-seekers. At the same time, the violence has ignited a heated national debate over what pundits here say is a rise in overt racism and intolerance — in a nation highly sensitive to both because of Nazi-era atrocities.

All this is happening as Germany takes in more asylum-
seekers than any other nation in Europe — a number set to reach an estimated 500,000 this year alone — while quickly running out of places to house them. As a result, the national government in Berlin is turning to insular and almost wholly white enclaves to take in the newcomers, who are mostly from the Middle East and Africa.

In communities such as Meissen, in Germany’s formerly communist east, that has been a recipe for friction.

“In east Germany, we have had 25 years of very powerful influence by neo-Nazi culture. Few immigrants were going there out of fear of being threatened,” said Anetta Kahane, chairwoman of the pro-refugee Amadeu Antonio Foundation in Berlin. “Now you see these asylum-seekers placed in cities in the east, a part of the country that is completely white. Sometimes the response is pure racism.”

A surge in aggression

The arson in Meissen, for instance, immediately exposed a fierce strain of opposition to the new refugee center. A new local anti-refugee group — the Homeland Defense Initiative — drew as many as 650 supporters to a rally last week, far more than pro-refugee groups have managed to muster. Many neighbors who live near the burned refugee center are blaming not the arsonists but the building’s owner — local developer Ingolf Brumm — for having agreed to turn it into a shelter.

After Brumm publicly denounced the fire, he and his family received death threats and were viciously harassed online. To protect him, police began patrolling his nearby home office. Recently arrived refugees already living in Meissen have also become targets. One Syrian dentist who was assigned to live in Meissen and arrived Aug. 1 said he has had stones thrown at his apartment door, glue put in his lock and obscenities hurled at him from the street.

“After the fire, the neighbors yelled out at me, saying ‘Good,’ and ‘It’s about time someone did something to stop this,’ ” Brumm said as he surveyed the damage to his building last week. “I thought I knew the citizens of Meissen, but I was wrong. There are good people here but also people with hate in their hearts.”




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