Angela Merkel warns against intolerance towards refugees
Chancellor dismisses traitor’ jibes from far-right hecklers at Saxony refugee shelter and thanks Germans trying to help asylum seekers
The German chancellor’s visit to the Heidenau refugee centre, greeted, above, by a placard reading “traitor of the people” came a day after Berlin said it had eased some asylum rules.
Angela Merkel was met by a barrage of whistles, boos and calls of traitor when she visited an emergency asylum seeker and refugee centre near Dresden. She insisted that hatred towards refugees would not be tolerated.
About 50 protesters had gathered outside the disused DIY store turned reception centre in Heidenau, Saxony, as the German chancellor, on Wednesday, made her first visit to a refugee shelter. Her visit reportedly followed criticism that she had failed to openly condemn recent violence against the large numbers of refugees arriving in Germany.
In a protest organised on social media by far-right groups car horns were blown to try to block out her words. Merkel insisted on the importance of “human and dignified treatment” of asylum seekers. “There will be no tolerance towards those who are not prepared to help,” she said. “The more people that make that clear, the stronger we will be.”
Heidenau, which has been housing 600 refugees since Friday, was the scene of violent clashes between police and demonstrators at the weekend, confrontations which, on Wednesday, Merkel branded shameful and repulsive. Right-wing radicals and racist protesters threw fireworks and bottles at police, injuring 31 of them.
German neo-Nazi protesters clash with police at new migrant shelter
Following the announcement last week that Germany was expecting to receive at least 800,000 refugees this year, attacks against refugee shelters which were already high, have intensified, particularly in the east of the country.
“Germany will help where help is necessary, and of course we need to put this into practice,” Merkel said. “We cannot act as if this situation was a perfectly normal one. And it will only work if we take this new path together.”
Protesters repeatedly shouted “people’s traitor” and chanted “Wir sind das Pack” (we are the mob), a dig at the deputy chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, who called the protesters a mob during a visit to Heidenau on Tuesday. It was also a play on the popular demonstration cry “Wir sind das Volk”, (we are the people) used by pro-democracy demonstrators in the run-up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 but recently hijacked by supporters of the racist movement Pegida.
Merkel thanked the tens of thousands of people in Germany who have been joining in the effort to help the refugees who have dispersed across the country, after arriving mostly via Bavaria in the south.
She also praised mayors across Germany for trying to care for the refugees, thanking them and everyone who had “had to endure the hatred”. Her closing words amounted to what was, for Merkel, an unusually heartfelt appeal to all Germans to keep talking about the issues and about how Germany could best deal with what she described as the exceptional situation.
Germans greet influx of refugees with free food and firebombings
At the same time, the German president, Joachim Gauck, visited a refugee shelter in Berlin. He said the attacks belonged to a “dark Germany” and said those who were involved in helping refugees to integrate belonged to a “bright Germany” and offered a clear answer to the rabble-rousers. He added that while it was the job of politicians to listen to the fears of the people, now was a time when the people needed to trust politicians to “master the challenges”.
“I’d like to remind you that during times in the past when Germany was grindingly poor we have faced far greater challenges than this. But people nowadays have of course forgotten this.”
In the first half of 2015 there were about 200 attacks on the accommodation of asylum seekers, a huge increase on last year.