Living as a refugee in Germany under shadow of violence

Emran Feroz

A German man was involved in a deliberate attack seeking to mow down immigrants in an attempt to kill them. Such acts of violence against immigrants are part of an increasingly hostile political atmosphere in Germany against refugees. New Year’s Eve in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia ended in bloodshed.

“I saw how the car drive in our direction, and then it hit my son. I didn’t know what happened after that. I just started crying,” said an Afghan woman and a witness to the attack. Andreas N, a 50-year-old German man, attacked Afghan and Syrian refugees with his car in the towns of Essen and Bottrop.  Eight people – a Syrian family, an Afghan mother and her four-year-old son, another 10-year-old girl from Syria and a German man with Turkish roots – were left severely injured.

The culprit made little attempt to hide the motivation behind his attack, confessing that it was sparked by racist feelings. He also described his victims as “not humans” and “Kanaken,” a derogatory term for Turks, Arabs and other ethnic minorities. Reportedly, Andreas N was unemployed for several years and was dealing with a mental illness. However, many people, especially refugees and migrants, believed the attack to be a hate crime amounting to an act of terrorism. A debate has also emerged around the words being used to describe the crime. Some fear that because the culprit was white, German and male, the violent, heinous nature of the crime was downplayed by the media, politicians and local authorities. This would not be the first time.

While to many people worldwide, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has become a moral authority and a “last bastion” of liberalism in Europe since the so-called refugee crisis, many dark sides of her policies have been ignored. The biggest right-wing terror campaign in post-war Germany has been revealed during Merkel’s chancellorship, and it is far from fully accounted yet.

From 2000 to 2007, the right-wing terrorist group, the National Socialist Underground, murdered at least nine migrants, eight Turks and one Greek.  Although the case has been closed by the courts since last July, many questions remain unanswered, especially the reported involvement of the Verfassungsschutz, Germany’s federal intelligence service, who are accused of being heavily involved with the terrorist group’s right-wing extremist milieu. For years, it was known that key neo-Nazi figures also used to work for the Verfassungsschutz as confidential informants.

Officially, the terrorist group consisted of three people. In July 2018, their last survivor, Beate Zschape, faced a life sentence. But experts and observers say this is not the full story and that many other culprits behind the curtains were able to get away. Another, more recent example of Germany’s negligence towards far-right terrorism and hate crimes are the revelations about a right-wing shadow network within the German military.

According to the German left-wing daily taz, which conducted the investigation over more than a year, the network aimed to attack politicians, activists, refugees and migrants. Its head is an elite German soldier named Andre S Additionally, key figures of the “shadow army” that planned to “take arms” on “day X,” were heavily linked to German authorities.

“Everywhere in Germany, also in Austria and Switzerland, groups have been formed. They work to build a state within the state. The members of these groups are policemen, soldiers, reservists, public officials and employees of the Verfassungsschutz”, a taz journalist wrote last November. All of this should be worrying. However, there was no outcry in Germany. International media outlets reported on these right-wing plots, while the majority of the German media remained silent. And most politicians, including the Chancellor herself, did not say a word.

Ignorance combined with structural racism is deeply rooted in the daily German language.There is a German word called “Fremdenfeindlichkeit” which literally means “hostility towards strangers”, and it is used very often, from the NSU terrorist attacks to the recent assault on New Year’s Eve. Terms similar to “hate crime”, that are regularly being used in the United States and elsewhere, are rarely used in German-speaking countries, especially not by media outlets, authorities or the police.

Another term that is dominating in Merkel’s alleged refugee-friendly Germany is “Rückführung”, which means “return” or “repatriation.” But in reality, it is describing brutal mass deportations to war zones. During the last few years, such deportations have become an inhuman reality, and Berlin insists that countries like Afghanistan, which has been facing war and chaos for decades, have “safe regions” where deportees are able to live in peace and harmony.

Merkel’s chancellorship is coming to an end, and many people already regret that the mightiest woman on earth will leave the political arena.  This is understandable for many reasons. We are literally living in an “age of anger” that is dominated by aggressive politicians. Among these personalities, Merkel’s calmness and optimism often appeared sedate. Nevertheless, this does not change the fact that many of her own policies were cruel and ignorant too, and that the impact of that will affect us long after her era.