Tension in Germany, which has largely won acclaim for its warm reception to refugees and migrants, appears to be rising after several riots gripped migrant centres and camps in recent weeks.
On Thursday evening, some 200 Syrian and Afghan asylum seekers being housed in the northern German city of Hamburg clashed after an apparent row over a shower queue. The two groups attacked each other with iron bars, furniture and rocks, prompting some 50 police to be called to the scene to try and break up the violence. Four people were injured in the incident.
The centre, adapted from a former hardware store, now shelters some 800 people, and is one of a growing number of makeshift bases for hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants who have entered Germany this year.
The asylum centre had only been opened for a week but it had already seen a hunger strike, with dozens of refugees protesting against what they said were poor conditions.
More than 500,000 people have entered Europe already this year, but on Thursday the UN refugee agency UNHCR said that 700,000 people would reach Europe via the Mediterranean this year and “possibly even higher numbers” would come in 2016. Many have headed to Germany, which took in 280,000 migrants last month alone. This is more than it took in in 2014, and has prompted concerns about how Berlin will continue to cope.
More than half of those who have made it to Europe have been Syrians fleeing their country’s four-year civil war.
Over the weekend, another riot broke out in the central town of Calden apparently after an Albanian migrant cut in line at the makeshift tent city, prompting rebuke from an older Pakistani man. The incident quickly escalated with the Washington Post reporting that some 300 migrants ended up attacking each other with pepper spray and metal pipes. More than 50 police reportedly fought for hours to restore order, with three people hospitalised for their injuries, local officials said.
The riot came on the same day that Germany’s biggest police union said authorities should impose an “apartheid” system in refugee centres to separate Christians and Muslims after a string of flare-ups. Some conservative politicians have backed the call, but most have rejected any such segregation.
On Tuesday last week, dozens of Syrians and Pakistanis came to blows Tuesday in a camp in the eastern city of Dresden while in late August clashes, that appear to have broken out after a Koran was defaced, landed 17 people in hospital in the central German town of Suhul.
“You know, when the refugees started coming, I was one of those who saw people needing help and I thought we have to help,” Harry Kloska, a 46-year-old Calden resident told the Washington Post after a riot broke out in the town’s asylum centre.
“But it’s been weeks [since the refugee camp opened], and I have a different opinion now. I am not sure that we’re going to be able to do this, to help so many people from so many different countries.”
The German parliament on Thursday began discussing proposals to tighten the country’s asylum laws. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said “hard decisions” will have to be made and the country’s asylum system reformed.
Under the proposals, applicants from “safe countries of origin” such as Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro would see their applications rejected, with tougher deportation laws being imposed for all those who do not meet the new asylum criteria. However, there have also been calls to speed up the application process and to beef up integration programmes.
“We are clearly committed to integrating those who are worthy of protection,” Maiziere said.