Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
September 16, 2013
As many as 5,000 Syrian refugees are after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government agreed to a U.N. request to host them. But they aren’t receiving the warmest welcome in a country where a growing number of Germans are unhappy about the steady stream of asylum seekers. Fanning the flames are right wing extremists, who want Germany to close its doors to refugees.
Among their targets is Hellersdorf, a working class neighborhood on the outskirts of Berlin. The city government has placed refugees from war-torn countries in an abandoned high school there — a move that had led to multiple demonstrations, both for and against the refugees.
Many Hellersdorf residents say they opposed the protests, which were largely staged by out-of-towners, but they aren’t happy their community is forced to host refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other countries, either. The blue-collar neighborhood filled with Soviet-era apartment blocks lacks the ethnic diversity seen in much of Berlin. It is also short on services and schools. City planners who spent billions of dollars renovating other parts of the German capital have largely ignored this community.
Wariness At Growing Numbers
“We don’t know these people; they come from another country,” says 25-year-old resident Enrico Kieser. “I wasn’t worried so much about them raising the crime rate, but large numbers of them moving in could cause problems.”
Another 22-year-old resident who would only give her first name, Nikke, says she feels less safe walking around her neighborhood with the refugees here, and accuses the male refugees of harassing women.
“I’ve had to walk around at night carrying a truncheon, and that’s not right,” she says.
German groups like the National Democratic Party, or NPD, are playing on such paranoia, especially during Germany’s national election season. It has hung campaign posters in Hellersdorf featuring a photo of a blond woman next to another woman whose face is covered with a black veil. The slogan reads: “Maria, not Sharia,” referring to Islamic law. Most of the refugees at the center are Muslim.
Manfred Rouhs, of the anti-refugee Pro-Deutschland group — he once ran for local office on the NPD ticket — says the government has no right to force German communities like Hellersdorf to take refugees in.
“Records show that more than 90 percent of the asylum seekers who come here are economic refugees and are in no way being persecuted,” he says.
Rouhs says Syria’s neighbors — and not Germany — should be helping the refugees.