Germany's Refugee Policy Tested By New Arrivals : Parallels As many as 5,000 Syrian refugees are moving to Germany this month, but they aren't receiving the warmest welcome in a country where a growing number of Germans are unhappy about the steady stream of asylum seekers. Fanning the flames are extremists, who want Germany to close its doors to refugees.

Germany's Refugee Policy Tested By New Arrivals

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The chemicals weapons deal may indirectly influence the Syrian civil war. Syrian forces appeared to feel the need to use those weapons, and using them again may become more difficult with inspectors ranging across the country. But the agreement does not directly affect the war at all. The shooting continues. And according to the U.N., more than six-and-a-half million Syrians have been displaced.


This morning, we'll report on a country where some are seeking shelter. Germany agreed to take in thousands of Syrians, but they may not receive the warmest welcome. Right-wing extremists want Germany to close its doors to refugees. Extremists are targeting a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Berlin, which is where we find NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Chancellor Angela Merkel is asking her fellow Germans to welcome 5,000 Syrian refugees. But in Hellersdorf, few people appear to be heeding her call.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in foreign language)

NELSON: Raucous protests by out-of-towners engulfed the East Berlin suburb weeks before the first Syrians arrived. There were demonstrations for and against refugees placed in an abandoned high school here. Many Hellersdorf residents say they oppose the protests, but they are not happy that their community is hosting refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other war-torn countries, either. This blue-collar neighborhood, filled with Soviet-era apartment blocks, lacks the ethnic diversity seen in much of Berlin. Hellersdorf is also short on services and schools. So when government officials set up a refugee center here last month, people were upset.

ENRICO KIESER: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Resident Enrico Kieser says his neighbors worry the newcomers will strain already inadequate services in Hellersdorf, especially if hundreds more move in.

NIKKE: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Another resident, who only gave her first name, Nikke, says she feels less safe walking around her neighborhood with the refugees here, and accuses the male refugees of harassing women. Extremist factions are playing on such fears, especially during Germany's national election season. The right-wing MPD Party has hung campaign posters in Hellersdorf featuring a photo of a blonde woman next to another woman whose face is covered with a black veil. The slogan reads: Maria, not Sharia, referring to Islamic law. Most of the refugees at the center are Muslim.

MANFRED ROUHS: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Manfred Rouhs, of the anti-refugee Pro-Deutschland group, says the government has no right to force German communities like Hellersdorf to take refugees in. He argues that it's Syria's neighbors who should be helping the refugees, and not Germany. While few Germans share his views, officials say they are encountering growing resistance to opening new refugee centers. That worries Monika Lueke, who is the Berlin Senate's commissioner responsible for refugees.

MONIKA LUEKE: Most of them are from Syria and Afghanistan, and they are heavily traumatized. They have gone through civil war. They have seen people and their families dying. And they have fear. And it's not accepted before them to be confronted with demonstrations like this.

NELSON: Lueke says officials in Berlin have no choice but to put refugees in places like the old school in Hellersdorf because of the major housing shortage here. But refugee advocates say the German government should have planned long ago for the refugees, given the fact the number of asylum seekers in Germany has doubled every year recently.

DIRK MEISER: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: In Hellersdorf, Dirk Meiser is one of a group of activists who gather across from the new refugee center every day to show their support for the asylum seekers.

MEISER: Everybody agrees that this is about the worst place you could put any human being. And this school was closed about five years ago because it was so rotten that the people said there is no financial way we can actually redo the school again. Now, five years later, they open the doors, move people in former classrooms and tell them, well, you can live here.

NELSON: The few refugees who venture outside the center are too afraid to talk to reporters. Most of the neighbors steer clear of the activists. But one 80-year-old resident shyly approaches them with a question. Her name is Else Haussig.

ELSE HAUSSIG: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: She tells the activists she wants to donate stuffed animals, toys and curtains to the people living at the school. Haussig adds: We should make it as easy as possible for the refugees. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin.

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