Amid an influx of refugees, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced plans providing more support for asylum seekers. But, during a visit to a refugee centre on Wednesday (26 August) she was labeled a “traitor” by protesters. EURACTIV Germany reports.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited a refugee centre in the Saxonian city of Heidenau yesterday, after right-wing riots and attacks have shaken the city recently.
There, she met with Saxony’s State Prime Minister Stanislaw Tillich and Mayor Jürgen Opitz, both from Merkel’s centre-right party the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), as well as with refugees and volunteers in the facility affected by the violence. It was the Chancellor’s first visit to a facility accommodating asylum seekers.
Merkel expressed her solidarity with refugees and their supporters and sharply condemned the xenophobic riots of the past few days.
“It is shameful and vile, what we have had to endure”, the Chancellor said. The centre-right leader has faced considerable criticism over her silence on the recent rise in xenophobic attacks but in Heidenau her response was clear.
“There is no tolerance for those who question the dignity of others, no tolerance for those who are not willing to help where legal and human help is required,” Merkel said. “The more we make that clear, the stronger we will be.”
When the Chancellor arrived, there were loud boos from among the attendees. A placard in the crowd read “Traitor of the people.” One man shouted, “There is money for everything, but not for your own people.” A few dozen in a group chanted, “We are the mob!”
On Monday (24 August) Vice Chancellor and head of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Sigmar Gabriel used the word “mob” to describe those who have been violently protesting against refugees and refugee centres over the past few days.
The chant hearkens back to the slogan “We are the people” (“Wir sind das Volk”), which was heard at the Monday demonstrations in Leipzig and elsewhere, shortly before the end of communist East Germany.
Right-wing extremists protested in front of a refugee centre in Heidenau over the weekend. But a suspected arson attack on an empty shelter in Leipzig on Tuesday (25 August) came as shocking news.
Burkhard Jung, the mayor of Leipzig, sharply condemned the attack.
“What we have here is a cowardly attack committed by people who have no sense of humanity.” 56 asylum seekers were planned to move into the house in the district of Stötteritz on Wednesday. Jung emphasised that, after the necessary repairs are made, the city still intends to accommodate refugees there despite the attack.
In the town of Parchim, in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, police arrested two men for breaking into a shelter Tuesday night wielding a knife. The two fled after residents noticed them and notified security guards at the facility.
Meanwhile, police in the city of Nauen, in Brandenburg, are investigating a likely arson attack on Monday night that destroyed a gymnasium, intended to serve as emergency housing for refugees.
On Wednesday Merkel’s cabinet gave the green light for more financial assistance to cities and municipalities to help deal with the growing number of refugees flooding into the country. The ministers agreed on a bill that would send €1 billion in federal funds to municipalities to help pay for care and housing of refugees this year. Originally, only €500 million had been planned but the additional €500 million scheduled for 2016 will now be distributed earlier.
Support for municipalities is likely to see another boost in the near future. Gabriel has already discussed increasing federal aid to around €3 billion.
The move comes amid a massive influx in asylum seekers from crisis-ridden countries like Syria and Afghanistan, but also countries in the Western Balkans.
Europe is struggling to cope with a flood of migrants and refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and beyond. Germany, which has relatively liberal asylum laws, is set to receive the largest share, estimated at some 800,000 people this year, equivalent to almost 1 percent of the total population and nearly four times as many as in 2014.
Speaking on Tuesday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble indicated that the growing demand for funding to accommodate refugees is manageable.
Gauck: Refugee aid to counter “dark Germany”
Germany’s head of state, President Joachim Gauck, visited a refugee housing facility in Berlin and praised the help provided by hundreds of thousands of citizens as a clear response to xenophobic attacks on refugee centres.
“There is a bright Germany,” Gauck said, that is setting a shining example here in contrast to the “dark Germany”. He indicated that many volunteers interrupted their vacation or took time during school holidays to support the refugees.
“It is important to me that Germany straighten itself up in the presence of these hundred thousand helpful individuals,” the President said.
“This is the clear response to agitators and arsonists who are distorting the image of our country.” Police and the rule of law will be able to handle them, he said. “We will tell them: you do not represent us.”
But Gauck also advised that people’s fears over the growing number of refugees flooding into Europe should be taken seriously. “That is when politicians must respond.”
In addition, Gauck indicated a need for close cooperation between the federal and state levels. In special situations one must act quicker, he warned.
After WWII, Germany was much worse off and successfully accommodated a flood of refugees, he pointed out.
Now, more than ever, Gauck said he is certain the country can succeed: “This Germany with its strong shoulders, politically and economically, will be able to master these challenges”.
EU leaders have agreed on the outlines of a two-year plan to deal with unprecedented numbers of migrants fleeing the Middle East and Africa.
But implementing the system to resettle or relocate 60,000 refugees is proving to be highly contentious at a time of rising anti-immigration parties in Europe. Many countries, including France and Germany, do not reject the idea of burden-sharing for refugees, but contend that the European Commission's proposed quota system needs to be reworked.
EU leaders argued through the night at a summit in June over the plan, wary of taking in migrants and reflecting deep national rivalries that the bloc's cooperation is supposed to transcend. They have set December as the latest deadline to agree final numbers.