Geneva - Assaults against asylum seekers and the shelters that house them are multiplying at an alarming rate in Germany, warned Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor in a statement today, stressing the importance of honesty around the topics of asylum and migration to combat distortions by far-right extremists aiming to fuel fears and gain votes.
In the first three months of 2023, there were 408 personal attacks, at least 350 of which were reported to have a far-right motive. In comparison, in the first three months of 2022, 243 attacks were registered, of which 223 were recorded as having a far-right motive—indicating that the number of these assaults has doubled.
The concerning increase in attacks began in the last months of 2022, when asylum seekers’ accommodations were targeted along with individual migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees themselves.
According to the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, the number of attacks against asylum seekers and refugees is on the rise in Germany, after having been in decline for years.
In the first nine months of 2022, the Ministry recorded 65 attacks against asylum reception centres, almost as many as in the whole of 2021. In the first three months of 2023 alone, 45 attacks were registered.
German authorities have confirmed that the number of reported crimes and attacks committed against asylum seekers in the first months of 2023 is higher than it was in the same period last year. Beyond the raw statistics, however, several factors—such as the brutal nature of the crimes and the alleged motives of the perpetrators—are gravely worrying.
A striking majority of these crimes, if not all, had a far-right motive behind them and were committed using cruel methods. In October 2022, three migrant shelters were burned down. In one such incident, a few days before a fire completely destroyed a Red Cross reception centre in Gross Strömkendorf, northern Germany, a swastika was drawn on the building’s front entrance.
The problem is not only the damaging of shelters that are already scarce and the danger posed to vulnerable residents, but also the violent, xenophobic, and racist propaganda around these assaults. In Bautzen, in the country’s east, the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) organised a rally to protest the reopening of a refugee centre there. An AfD regional representative said it was “unacceptable” that asylum seekers were being housed in a former hotel, and that they should instead stay “in containers set up in business parks”.
This sort of xenophobic backlash doesn’t happen by accident; rhetoric from the political right surrounding asylum and migration is stoking dissatisfaction within German civil society, goading people to believe that their country is taking in too many refugees and that there is no room left. This narrative paves the way for racist acts and xenophobic mobilisation, causing more violence against those who have already fled their home countries in search of safety.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency put the AfD under formal surveillance for potential extremist links in February 2021. Yet, a recent official survey shows current approval ratings for the party at a record high of 17-19 per cent nationwide, with the majority of those surveyed stating that the AfD’s hard-line stance on immigration was their reason to vote for it.
“Across Europe, far-right parties have gained momentum thanks to the exploitation of topics that should not be political, like the right to asylum, and thanks to their restrictive anti-immigration policies. Refugees’ arrivals and the provision of basic goods and precarious shelters are maliciously depicted as kind gifts instead of legal obligations by right-wing politicians who aim at fuelling tension to gain ground,” said Michela Pugliese, Migration and Asylum Researcher at the Euro-Med Monitor.
“The shared narrative and whole system of policies that treat migrants and asylum seekers as unwanted material to be removed as soon as possible is likely to breed this type of xenophobic violence inside its communities,” she added. Pugliese cautioned that if people who flee their home countries due to fear and persecution are not protected, accommodated, and cared for appropriately in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, “then the whole meaning of asylum loses its worth”.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor urges Germany to protect the safety of asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees in a comprehensive way: to support and empower the victims of these attacks as well as their communities with access to justice and other types of assistance; to guarantee the implementation of regulations against these violent and brutal assaults; to increase awareness in the general public on the danger posed by far-right extremism and its biased rhetoric on asylum and migrations, strengthening a truthful and honest discourse around these sensitive topics; and to prosecute and condemn far-right extremism, identified by the chief of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency as the country’s biggest threat to democracy.