Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Germany fear that the attacks in Paris could further shift public opinion against the Berlin government’s welcoming asylum policy.
About a dozen men, smoking heavily, discussed the deadliest attacks in Europe since 2004 outside Berlin’s Tempelhof airport, an imposing structure built by Hitler to showcase Nazi power, and now functioning as a shelter for asylum seekers.
The backdrop to their conversation on Monday (16 November) was a chorus of demands by right-wing European politicians to halt the flow of migrants into Europe, which some see as providing ideal cover for Islamic State to smuggle in militants — even if there is as yet no proof.
Nabil, 27, a Syrian from Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa, finds it hard to believe a Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the Paris gunmen. He believes this was a conspiracy, a common thought in the Arab world.
“And France is known for having extremists. I worry about public opinion,” he added, tucking his hands into the pockets of his red jacket on a cold evening, as two children aged no more than six walked past in shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops.
Nizar Basal, a Syrian from a town near Hama, was surprisingly frank.
“There are of course ticking bombs coming in with the refugees,” said the 49-year-old, who worked as a private teacher of computer science in Abu Dhabi before coming to Germany last month.
“But the question is, what will happen to us? What will people think about us? They will think we are the enemy.”
The German government said after the attacks, in which at least 129 people were killed on Friday night (13 November), that its security agencies had intensified monitoring of radical right-wing activists, fearing a backlash against refugees.
German media also reported that the government wants to tighten security at refugee shelters. German police have detained an Algerian man at one shelter in connection with the Paris attacks, officials said on Monday (16 November).
There have been more than 690 arson and other attacks on refugee centres so far this year, as Germany expects up to one million asylum seekers. The influx has increased pressure on the government to reverse some of its welcoming policies and strained German Chancellor Angel Merkel’s coalition.
Mohammad, 31, who worked in a sweet shop in Syria before the war there, fears a hardening of German public opinion.
“We fled death, we don’t want anyone to die. This is a problem that will affect the refugees,” he said.
Falah, 48, who owned a watch shop in Baghdad before fleeing to Turkey, put things into perspective.
“There is a suicide bombing every 15 minutes in Iraq,” he said. He then pointed to a picture of Merkel on his mobile phone and said: “She is our hope.”
Basal, the teacher, said he would have attended a weekend vigil in Berlin for the Paris attack victims if he had heard about it in advance.
“We don’t have much time to think about it. There are no showers here, we haven’t had a shower for two weeks.”