Anti-foreigner sentiment on the rise in Germany

4th October 2007, Comments 0 comments

4 October 2007, Berlin (dpa) - Mahmood Saqib has a tremor in his voice when he talks about the night a mob of Germans went on the rampage and ransacked his snack bar in the eastern town of Buetzow.

4 October 2007

Berlin (dpa) - Mahmood Saqib has a tremor in his voice when he talks about the night a mob of Germans went on the rampage and ransacked his snack bar in the eastern town of Buetzow.

"I was in my flat above the premises when they looked up and saw me. 'We'll come up and finish you off,' they yelled. I was terrified," said the Pakistani man from Gujat.

"It was obviously a racist incident," he said. "My German neighbours were looking out of their windows and witnessed the attack, but they did not receive any threats."

Saqib, who has lived in Germany since 2001, escaped injury in the fracas, one of half-a-dozen racially-motivated attacks that rocked this country towards the end of August.

Kulvir Singh was not so lucky. He suffered serious injuries when another mob chased eight Indians through the streets of Muegeln and tried to kick down the doors of a pizzeria where they sought refuge.

Elsewhere, an Iraqi was beaten over the head with a baseball bat, an Afghan woman was pushed down a flight of stairs, and men from Sudan, Egypt and Ghana required treatment for injuries inflicted by their German assailants.

In all but one of the attacks, some of those involved had links to the extreme right-wing, which is growing in popularity in the former communist east of Germany, particularly among young people.

This was a far cry from 2006 when Germany hosted the football World Cup and showed the world it was a hospitable country that welcomes people of all skin colours and religious beliefs.

The worst scenes of violence have been in the eastern states, which have seen an inordinate number of attacks on foreigners since German unification in 1990.

Stephan Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews, spoke of a "dangerous situation" for foreigners and said authorities should warn them against settling in certain regions.

Asked by a television interviewer if he would ever consider going for a stroll in the evening in a small east German town, he replied: "I would not do that. I'm not tired of life."

A report by Germany`s domestic intelligence service, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, showed there were 1,047 violent crimes committed by right-wing extremists in 2006, an increase of 9.3 per cent over the previous year.

The total of politically motivated right-wing crimes climbed 14.6 per cent to 17,597, it said.

"The observation of this apparent upward trend in extremist activity in Germany is supported by reports of increased right-wing attacks noted by victim support organizations in eastern parts of the country," said a report by the European Union on racism and xenophobia issued August 27.

One of these groups, the Berlin-based Amadeu-Antonio Foundation, has criticized the government for not doing enough to combat right-wing extremism.

Not so, says Family Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen, pointing out the government has spent more than 120 million euros (163 million dollars) in the past five years on programmes to counter neo-Nazi sentiment.

Most of the money has gone to states in the east such as Saxony where right-wing parties have capitalized on voter apathy in a region where unemployment and discontent is much higher than in the west.

The extreme right-wing National Democratic Party (NPD) has been particularly active, canvassing young voters during election campaigns by setting up youth clubs in neglected rural areas and distributing CDs with songs by right-wing rock bands.

Friedeman Bringt, who heads a mobile construction team in Saxony, told the news magazine Der Spiegel that the real root of the problem is that many easterners lack empathy and are unable to understand other people's point of view.

The August violence revived calls for a ban on the anti-foreigner NPD, which is represented in the regional parliaments of two of the eastern states where the attacks occurred.

But leading German politicians have expressed doubts whether a ban could be imposed after a similar attempt was quashed by the country`s top court in 2003.

"The Constitutional Court can order the confiscation of the party`s funds, computers and propaganda material, but it won`t change the way its members think," said the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

The attacks have embarrassed Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the incident in Muegeln as "shameful," while government spokesman Thomas Steg said it harmed the country's image abroad.

But it is not only right-wing extremists that foment racism, according to Juergen Mickish, chairman of the Intercultural Council, an organization of rights groups, religious leaders and trade unions.

The government has unwittingly contributed to an increase in xenophobia and racism by tightening citizenship requirements and making it more difficult for immigrants to bring their families to Germany, he said.


Subject: German news

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