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Eighteen people were injured this past Saturday following violent clashes between far-Right protestors and counter-protestors in Chemnitz, Germany. Around 4,500 members of the Alternative for Germany Party (AFP) and the anti-Islam Pegida took part in a march after two immigrants were arrested in relation to the murder of a German citizen. As asylum seekers flee to Germany, Far-right and neo-Nazi organizations like AFP have grown in popularity, raising concerns over a new wave of violent nationalism.
Over a million refugees have entered Germany since 2015, with the majority fleeing violent conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. While the number of asylum seekers has dropped dramatically since 2016, a study by the University of Leipzig found that xenophobia and Islamophobia are still increasing among the German public. Over 40% of respondents stated that Muslims should be prevented from migrating, while only 13% believe that Islam belongs in Germany. As conservatism spreads, the country has seen a growth in violent attacks targeting migrant communities. Officials report over 420 physical attacks and 1,300 verbal attacks in 2016 alone.
Despite growing opposition, some public officials like Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas have continued to advocate for refugee communities, with the latter calling on Germans to “get up off the sofa and speak up” against the far-right and xenophobic crimes. Communities are also mobilizing in support of refugees, with Chemnitz residents organizing an anti-racism concert in response to recent far-right demonstrations.
The far-right’s propaganda exploits xenophobic tropes familiar to those in the US- they claim that migrants ruin the job market and that Islam is incompatible with German values. Visible support for migrant communities is thus important to combat the growing prevalence of conservative propaganda. It can also ease social pressures on refugees by assuring them that they are welcome in the country. However, alone, vocal support for immigration will not prevent the rise of populism. The German government must take more material steps to support migrant communities. This might look like providing access to welfare, translated documents/translators, and an easier path to citizenship, all of which are necessary for the refugee’s security and well-being. Additionally, Germany must put more resources towards prosecuting hate crimes, because, as several countries pointed out in Germany’s Universal Periodic Review, such crimes often go unpunished or otherwise unaddressed. Turning a blind eye not only denies justice for the victims, but also inevitably encourages future misconduct.
As the world enters a new globalized era, one marked in part by increased immigration, more countries will have to deal with changing racial demographics. Germany, initially one of the largest proponents of accepting refugees, is beginning to serve as an example to other countries considering their own immigration policy. Thus, it is even more crucial that German officials do all they can to ease emerging tensions and squash far-right groups before the pro-immigration tide turns both in their country and abroad.