Last week, PolicyMic reported that Sweden had started opening up its borders to Syrian refugees. Germany has also followed suit, the first group of 107 “highly vulnerable Syrian refugees” having arrived this week under a special humanitarian program launched by the country in March 2013.
Germany’s Humanitarian Assistance Program offers 5,000 Syrian refugees permits to stay in various locations across Germany for two years, with the option to extend the stay if the situation in Syria remains unchanged. During these two years, the refugees will also have full access to medical care, education, and other social services, and the right to work.
Upon their arrival, the refugees are taken to an accommodation center in Friedland, Lower Saxony, where they will stay for two weeks. Here, they will be offered cultural orientation courses, which include basic language training and lessons about the German school and health systems to how to interact with local authorities. After these two weeks, the refugees will leave for locations across Germany, where they will live in small centers or apartments, to embark on the next two years of their lives.
So far, so good — at least in theory. Once the Syrian refugees are settled into the respective German towns allocated to them, it is up to them how they live their life. However, in light of recent reports of hate crimes towards the Turkish community by neo-Nazis in Germany, the Syrians have sufficient reason to fear that they, too, may suffer the same fate.
In August, the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD) published a report on the crimes of the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a murderous neo-Nazi terrorist group of at least three people that was uncovered in November 2011. The NSU is accused of committing a series of crimes within the last decade, most of which were related to the Turkish community. They include bombings in a largely Turkish-populated district in Cologne, bank robberies, and the “Döner murders” — a series of 10 murders between 2000 and 2007, with eight of the victims being of Turkish origin.
The most harrowing element of these hate crimes was that the perpetrators seemed proud of it. After carrying out the series of murders, the NSU “had prepared a gruesome DVD to send to news organisations and Islamic cultural centres” describing in detail the killers’ actions and the death toll, even including photos of victims who had been shot in the face. Beate Zschaepe, said to be the sole surviving member of the NSU, was put on trial for the murders,where she was reported to have entered the court with her “arms folded... and appearing to joke with her lawyers.”
The fact it took until 2011 for German security forces to uncover the actions of the NSU was, furthermore, a source of shame to German politicians. Until then, the German police had insisted that the Döner murders had been perpetrated by the Turkish mafia or certain drug rings, and were not race-related crimes. (The police were so sure that the murders were perpetrated from foreign — most likely Turkish — gangsters, they codenamed the investigation Operation Bosphorus.) It was only until German police found the murder weapon in an apartment rented by three neo-Nazis, that they investigated further and uncovered the NSU. Of the three aforementioned neo-Nazis, two committed suicide after a botched bank robbery and the third, Beate Zschaepe , turned herself into the police.
While the NSU appears to have disappeared, there remain traces of racism and Islamophobia scattered among German society.
In 2010, the Freedom Party (Die Freiheit in German) was founded. While it identifies itself as conservative-liberal, the media labels it far-right or even “anti-Muslim.” While the party does not have any representatives in the Berlin state legislature, let alone the Bundestag, it has certainly gained attention from mainstream media. In 2011, Freedom leader Rene Stadtkewitz called for stricter legislation against Muslims, such as banning headscarves in school, as he deemed Islam “the opposite of a free society” and “an ideological one similar to other totalitarian systems, and which... is dangerous.” In 2012, the party planned to stage a screening of the controversial anti-Islamic film The Innocence of Muslims, and was accused by German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich of "[provoking] Germany’s Muslims... recklessly pouring oil onto the fire.”
According to Euro-Islam.info, Germany has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France. Segregation and unequal opportunities in the workplace, for instance, remain pertinent problems that face the Muslim community. Yet, it would remain unfair to label Germany as an unsafe place to live for immigrants or ethnic minorities, as the country has undergone great efforts to remove any potential sources of racism. In 2011, Germany launched an effort to outlaw another far-right political party, the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD). While this did not succeed, the NPD currently holds no seats in the Bundestag or the European Parliament. The same year, the Bundestag issued a cross-party resolution expressing “deep shame” in the NSU’s actions and a public apology to the friends and family of the NSU’s victims — adding that “we believe in a country in which everyone can feel safe, despite their differences, a land in which freedom and respect, diversity and openness are a reality.”
Ultimately, what the future holds for the Syrian refugees is unclear. All we can do is hope that the refugees assimilate well and peacefully into their new homes, and that they receive all the help they need and deserve from the German government during this difficult period of their lives.
“Germany is the first country in Europe to implement a humanitarian admissions programme for Syrian refugees with special needs,” said Michael Lindenbauer, the UN Refugee Agency’s representative in Germany. “The broad consensus reached in politics and society to support this initiative is exemplary.”