German officials horrified by anti-migrant mobs in eastern state
BERLIN – Agence France-Presse
AFP photoShocked German officials on Feb. 22 condemned two “disgusting” incidents involving anti-migrant mobs in the ex-communist east of the country, including a crowd cheering a blaze at a planned refugee shelter.
A group of 20-30 apparently drunken onlookers applauded as fire took hold in a former hotel being converted into home for asylum seekers in the town of Bautzen in Saxony state overnight. Police suspected arson and traces of fire accelerant were found.
Some members of the group tried to impede the work of firefighters dispatched to the scene, police said.
A police spokesman said that the group showed “unabashed delight” at the blaze and made “disparaging comments” about the efforts to contain it.
No one was hurt in the incident. Two 20-year-old men were temporarily detained for defying police orders.
The events came two nights after 100 people in the Saxony town of Clausnitz tried to block the arrival of a bus carrying about 20 asylum seekers to a new shelter.
The scenes, captured on video, show the mob angrily shouting “We are the people,” borrowing the pro-democracy slogan from the peaceful revolution that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The images, which have gone viral on social media, show police officers dragging terrified refugees out of the coach, including a teenage boy reportedly from Lebanon.
Police chief Uwe Reissmann sparked further outrage when he gave the migrants themselves partial blame for the fraught scene, noting that some had filmed the mob with their mobile phones and made obscene gestures at them. He said he had not ruled out criminal charges against the protesters or the migrants.
Saxony is home to the anti-Islam and anti-immigration group PEGIDA, and incidents there have caused concern before. In August, a mob in Heidenau, outside Dresden, hurled bottles and fireworks at police protecting a shelter being set up for refugees.
German high-ranking officials react to attacks
Members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s left-right “grand coalition” government, which has come under increasing pressure over its liberal stance on asylum, expressed outrage at the incidents.
“Racists are pathetic lawbreakers, a disgrace for our country. Shame on you!” Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Roth wrote on Twitter.
“Those who shamelessly applaud when houses burn and scare refugees to death are displaying disgusting and revolting behavior,” Justice Minister Heiko Maas tweeted.
Aydan Özoğuz, who handles integration issues for the government, condemned the actions of the police in Clausnitz, calling it “deeply shocking” that the authorities were “not protecting the refugees.”
She also blasted the “deplorable” scenes in Bautzen.
“I am horrified that you again have scenes in Germany in which a mob applauds because a refugee shelter is burning,” she said. “Something is going very wrong in Saxony.”
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said it was “totally unacceptable that people who are seeking protection from oppression are met with hatred and incitement.”
Germany warns Austria over migrant cap
Meanwhile, de Maiziere said Feb. 22 that Austria’s decision to only accept 80 asylum seekers a day while letting thousands of others transit through sends “the wrong signal” and is “unacceptable.”
Berlin fears many of these migrants are heading straight for Germany, where tensions are on the rise after the country saw an influx of over a million asylum seekers last year, putting huge pressure on Merkel’s open-door policy.
“It won’t work if some countries think they can solve the problem by putting extra weight on Germany’s back,” de Maiziere told ARD public television, accusing Vienna of failing to carry out adequate checks on those being let through.
Despite strong objections from the European Union, Austria on Friday introduced a daily limit of 80 migrants who are allowed to claim asylum while allowing 3,200 migrants a day to transit through.
“Even for security reasons, this is unacceptable. We won’t allow this to continue long term,” de Maiziere said, adding that he intended to bring up the issue at the next gathering of EU interior ministers in Brussels on Feb. 25.