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Refugees don't fear reprisals in Germany

Jörg Luyken · 16 Nov 2015, 13:36

Published: 16 Nov 2015 13:36 GMT+01:00

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“The German government knows that the people who carried out the attacks in Paris are the same people who are being violent in Syria and Iraq,” Karim Kalane, a 25-year-old Syrian refugee told The Local.

“They won't change anything, they know they are the same people who made us leave.”

“The German government is wiser than to think that the two things have something to do with one another. They won't punish Syrians for what happened in Paris,” an older Syrian argued, as he paced around the centre's lobby sipping coffee out of a paper cup.

The people who carried out the attacks are "freaks" who have "nothing to do with Islam," he added, impatiently.

In the wake of Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris which led to 129 deaths and several hundred injured, the Christian Social Union (CSU) which controls Bavaria, Germany's most powerful state, called for a reversal of Germany's open-door refugee policy.

"It cannot be that we don't know who is coming to Germany and what these people are doing here. This situation must be brought to an end by any means," Bavarian finance minister Markus Söder told Welt am Sonntag on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Bavarian minister president Horst Seehofer said at a party conference on Saturday that the Paris attacks "show how important it is for us to have some clarity on who is in our country and who is travelling through our country".

But other members of Germany's ruling coalition - which includes the CSU, Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) - cautioned against drawing a link between Paris and the refugee crisis.

Speaking on Sunday, Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, told reporters that she would “advise that we be cautious about mixing the idea of terror with refugees".

Justice Minister Heiko Maas of the SPD reiterated this sentiment, saying “refugees are victims, not perpetrators. Many people asking us for help have themselves fled from terror.”

Germany 'different to France'

At the Storkower Straße reception centre in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district, a building where refugees are housed while their asylum applications are considered, many were reluctant to talk or provide details about themselves, suggesting that there is some fear the German government is treating them with suspicion.

One mentioned a rumour that for a misdemeanor as small as jaywalking, Syrians now risk undermining their asylum applications.

Nonetheless almost all were reluctant to express a negative attitude towards the country which has put a roof over their heads.

“Germany will not take refugees in and then send them back,” said Louy el-Hitey, a 37-year-old Iraqi. “Germany is very different from France – in France they have a lot of fear about Islam. France hasn't taken any refugees from the beginning, so how could it have been refugees who did it?”

The suspicion that blame for the Paris attacks has been unfairly cast on Syrians after a Syrian passport was found near one of the attacker's bodies was expressed by several people at the centre.

“How was this passport not blown up or burnt in the explosion [when the attacker detonated a suicide belt]. It's bullshit and Germans know it's bullshit,” said Sa'adi Jihad, a 19-year-old from the Syrian capital of Damascus. “I don't know who did it but it wasn't Syrians.”

A Kurdish woman who fled to Germany with her four children also said that it made no sense to conflate refugees with terrorism.

“We left Syria because we wanted to leave a war, not because we want to make a new one,” she said.

As for her confidence that the German government would not change its policy, she said only that “she hoped” they would continue to provide Syrians with asylum.

Unconcerned by racism

In the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks, the far-right Pegida movement sought to lay the blame on refugees, writing in a Facebook post that “those who are coming here are bringing terror with them”.

The anti-Islam movement managed to draw its largest ever crowd, some 20,000 people, onto the streets of Dresden in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks in January, leading to media speculation that a march to be held on Monday evening could draw in similar numbers.

But the refugees at Storkower Straße were unconcerned about right-wing backlash against them.

Many were unaware that there have been attacks on refugees and refugees' homes - despite a spate of arson attacks against refugee facilities in recent months.

Only one, Karim Kalane, said that he "expects that the neo-Nazis might try something," but he added that "I'm sure that the government will try to stop them”.

Largely though they brushed off fears that their own safety could have been put at risk by the Paris attacks.

“I'm not afraid. We've seen everything in Syria. What could we see here that could be worse?” a young refugee from Hama in Syria asked.

“My skin and mind are like a crocodile's now. If something bites me, I don't feel it anymore,” another echoed.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Jörg Luyken (joerg.luyken@thelocal.com)

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