German watchdog reports ‘alarming’ number of discrimination complaints

Germany’s federal Anti-Discrimination Agency received 5,617 complaints in 2021 - the second-highest number since its founding in 2006.

Germany's Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency Head Ferda Ataman, presents the agency's 2021 report at a press conference on 16 August 2022.
Germany's Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency Head Ferda Ataman, presents the agency's 2021 report at a Berlin press conference on 16 August 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

Instances of discrimination, particularly those involving racism, remain at historically high levels in Germany.

That’s according to a report released on Tuesday by Germany’s federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, which presented its figures from 2021.

The Antidiskriminierungsstelle (ADS), which was founded in 2006, provides counselling and advice to complainants, while conducting research and reporting on discrimination in Germany to the federal parliament.

The report released on Tuesday reveals that 2021 saw the second-highest annual number of complaints in the agency’s history. 2020 saw the highest number of complaints, with 6,383 instances reported.

“The number is alarming,” said agency head Ferda Ataman. 

Ataman brought up several examples during her press conference. “A wheelchair user reported to us that they weren’t allowed to board a bus, even though the bus was wheelchair accessible and there were enough places on it,” Ataman said. “A young woman reported to us that she was asked in a job interview when she wanted to become pregnant, even though asking that question isn’t allowed. A lesbian couple reported they were turned down for a home.”

Racism complaints made up the single largest share of cases – accounting for 37 percent of all complaints to ADS in 2021.

READ ALSO: What Germans really think about the country’s racism problem

Complaints related to disability and chronic illness accounted for 32 percent of cases, followed by sex (20 percent), age (10 percent), religion (6 percent), sexual orientation (4 percent) and worldview (3 percent).

As for where the incidents occurred, a third involved complaints from people who were denied access to private services, such as shops, supermarkets, or restaurants. 28 percent related to discrimination people faced in the workplace.

More than a third of cases, however, occurred in places where the government’s anti-discrimination law only partially applies. These include within the police, in court, in education, or in open public spaces.

“Unfortunately, discrimination is still part of everyday life in Germany,” said Ataman.

Among other measures, Ataman called for a reform of German anti-discrimination law to cover more areas and give people longer than eight weeks to report an incident. She also called for more offices where people could file complaints.

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German ex-soldier gets five and a half years for far-right plot

A German court on Friday sentenced a former soldier to five and a half years in prison for plotting a far-right attack on senior politicians while posing as a Syrian refugee.

German ex-soldier gets five and a half years for far-right plot

“The accused is guilty of planning a serious act of violence endangering the state,” presiding judge Christoph Koller said.

The long-delayed trial shone a spotlight on neo-Nazi sympathies in the ranks of the German military and the effectiveness of the security services in standing up to right-wing extremism — described by the interior minister as the biggest threat facing the country.

“It is the first time in post-war Germany that a member of the armed forces stands accused of planning a terrorist attack,” Annette Ramelsberger, veteran court reporter for the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, said ahead of the verdict.

Defendant Franco Albrecht, a 33-year-old father of three, had been in the dock before the regional superior court in the western city of Frankfurt since May 2021.

The Bundeswehr lieutenant was found to have cited cabinet ministers, MPs and a prominent Jewish human rights activist among his potential targets.

“He wanted to stage an attack with a major political impact,” prosecutor Karin Weingast said in closing arguments.

‘Attitude problem’

Albrecht, who has a full beard and wears his long hair tied in a ponytail, told the court he deceived authorities at the height of the 2015-16 migrant influx, in which more than one million asylum seekers entered Germany.

The soldier, the son of a German mother and an estranged Italian immigrant father, posed as a Christian fruit seller from Damascus called David Benjamin.

Albrecht darkened his skin with makeup to pose as a penniless refugee and hoodwinked immigration officials for 15 months, despite speaking no Arabic.

“Neither Arabic nor details about my story were necessary,” Albrecht testified, describing his conversations with immigration authorities.

READ ALSO: Germany stages country-wide raids against ‘neo-Nazi networks’

He was arrested in 2017 while trying to retrieve a Nazi-era pistol he had hidden in a toilet at Vienna’s international airport, and his fraud was discovered when his fingerprints matched two separate identities.

Soon after his arrest, then defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, now European Commission chief, said Albrecht’s case pointed to a much larger “attitude problem” in the German military.

Von der Leyen’s successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer ordered the partial dissolution of the KSK commando force in 2020 after revelations that some of its members harboured neo-Nazi sympathies.

‘Mein Kampf’

The court found that Albrecht planned to use both the pistol and other weapons and explosives he had taken from the German army in order to carry out an attack.

But prosecutors during the trial backed away for lack of evidence from an accusation that he plotted to use his false refugee identity to pin the crime on a Syrian.

Albrecht’s lawyers had called for a suspended sentence based solely on weapons law violations, while prosecutors demanded jail time of six years and three months.

Albrecht, who repeatedly expressed anti-Semitic, racist and hard nationalist views before the court during his trial, testified that then-chancellor Angela Merkel had failed to uphold the constitution by welcoming the refugees.

READ ALSO: Suspected neo-Nazi charged with plotting German ‘race war’

Investigations showed he owned a copy of Adolf Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf” and stated that immigration was a form of “genocide”.

Albrecht had been free on bail as his trial began but was taken back into custody in February of this year when he was found with Nazi memorabilia and further weapons in his possession, including five machetes under his mattress.

By Sarah Maria Brech with Deborah Cole in Berlin