German refugee centres face drastic rise in extremist attacks

Police gather at a neo-Nazi demonstration in Leipzig-Lindenau in May 2014. [Caruso Pinguin/Flickr]

The number of violent attacks on refugee centres in Germany increased in 2014 compared to the previous year, with analysts indicating connections to the anti-Muslim Pegida movement, and beyond. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Racist-driven attacks on lodgings for asylum seekers are on the rise in Germany, with over 150 attacks in 2014 – three times as many as in 2013.

The fourth quarter of last year, alone, saw 67 right-wing extremist crimes aimed at such residences, or their inhabitants. Violations ranged from sedition to grievous bodily injury and attacks with weapons or arson.

These statistics are outlined in the German government’s response to an inquiry from the Bundestag’s Left Party faction. Die Linke MP Ulla Jelpke, considers the data “obviously incomplete”.

For example, the list of crimes does not include an arson attack in Bavaria’s Vorra last December, she said. The attack targeted three buildings sheltering refugees. Not far from the scene, swastikas and racist slogans were found. “I am astonished at this lax treatment of right-wing extremist and racist violence,” Jelpke commented.

>> Read also: Bavaria proposes speeding up deportation for rejected asylum seekers

The parliamentarian said she sees a clear connection between the sudden increase in violence and the demonstrations of the “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident” (Pegida). Last year, the movement gained considerable support in Germany.

“It is obvious: The angered citizens on the right-wing have created an environment that is encouraging Neonazis to plaster swastikas everywhere and commit arson attacks,” explained the Left Party MP.

Meanwhile, researchers and right-wing extremism analysts agree with Jelpke’s assessment.

Attacks on refugee residences increased in early 2014 amid the “European elections which were very clearly focused against immigration and so-called ‘asylum abuse’,” said Bielefeld-based sociologist Andreas Zick, speaking to the German newspaper Tagesspiegel. This was also to be expected following the Pegida demonstrations, he indicated.

“The misanthropic atmosphere does not automatically lead to actions, but it motivates violence-prone persons and groups and is used as justification by the perpetrators,” Zick said. “Misanthropism is perceived or used as the norm. This applies to all hate crimes, even those of people with a migration background against others.”

Singling out Pegida as the sole cause falls short of the mark, contended right-wing extremism expert Patrick Gensing. In doing so, one simply discards a much larger dynamic in the approach to refugees, he argued.

“The debate over asylum seekers has been covered up for years. Here, politicians and the media must take a more active role,” said Gensing, in a statement for EURACTIV Germany.

Although it is true that the number of refugees in Germany has increased, this is far from creating a problem for society, as is often described in the public, he pointed out. “Politicians go on populist vote-catching sprees among voters, calling for faster deportations,” Gensing said.

The right-wing extremism expert said after the resignation of many of its organisers, Pegida has passed its zenith.

“A movement like this cannot survive without an organising framework,” Gensing explained.

Nevertheless, he said, racism and group-driven misanthropy are likely to remain a growing issue in society even after Pegida fades away.

The number of immigrants to Germany increased in 2013 compared to 2012. More than 1.23 million people moved into the country, compared to 1 million the year before. A number this high has not been recorded since 1993.

For months now, the “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident” - 'Pegida' under its German acronym - have been demonstrating against supposed “foreign infiltration” of German society through Islam.

>> Read: Anti-Islam protests 'tearing apart' German society

The movement also campaigns against numerous other phenomena: against asylum applicants, against Germany’s and Europe’s Russia-policy and against the media.

The largest Pegida demonstration included 18,000 participants and took place at the end of December in Dresden.

Organisers and supporters of the Pegida movement consider themselves a “citizen’s movement” and publicly distance themselves from right-wing extremists. They rely on the “Christian idea of man” but church leaders accuse them of “racism veiled by religion”.

Pegida uses fear of Islamic terror to spread general sentiment against refugees and foreigners. The alliance itself speaks of a defamation campaign.

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