Merkel Agrees to Limit Refugees Entering Germany

 By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to limit the number of refugees allowed to enter Germany each year to 200,000, a decision that has elicited both support and criticism in the nation.

Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union Party. Image courtesy of The Guardian.

The German Christian Social Union and the Christian Democratic Union  were in talks for hours before an agreement could be reached.

Many German voters had been angered with Merkel’s previous open-door policy, which effectively allowed in anyone who could reach the country. In 2015, this policy allowed over one million people in.

In July, Merkel stated “on the issue of an upper limit, my position is clear. I won’t accept one.”

Many see the policy as a concession to the demands of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, which was propelled in September’s elections where Merkel lost millions of voters. The AfD campaigned on an anti-Islam, anti-migrant platform, becoming the third largest party in Parliament. The new measure is seen in many as a way of winning back voters.

Many believe that Merkel must negotiate with smaller parties in order to form a cohesive coalition government. Ms. Merkel believes the policy is necessary, saying that “Germany needs a stable government and the prerequisite for this was a common negotiating position.”

In 2016, the number of refugees capped at 280,000. That number has since fallen drastically, with fewer than 124,000 people applying for asylum in the first eight months of 2017. Experts are saying that the proposed limit is in line with current immigration trends.

The new policy is not being described as a limit, as no one who is seeking asylum will be turned away at the borders once the 200,000 limit has been reached. The figure can be altered should a new refugee crisis emerge.

The policy is being criticized, with Karl Kopp, director for European Affairs at Pro Asyl, a German refugee charity, saying that the policy is “not compatible with international law” and “totally unacceptable.”

Simone Peters, head of the Green Party, claimed that “The figure is completely arbitrary, fixed purely ideologically. As far as we’re concerned the fundamental right to asylum applies. When you throw together asylum seekers, refugee contingents, resettlement programs and family members joining refugees all in one pot, and then set a limit of 200,000, one group will be thrown under the bus.”

For more information, please see:

CNN – Merkel Changes Tune on German Refugee Cap – 9 October 2017

The Guardian – Germany: Merkel Agrees to 200,000 Refugees Cap in Bid to Build Coalition – 9 October 2017

The New York Times – Germany’s Angela Merkel Agrees to Limits on Accepting Refugees – 9 October 2017

Far-right not far behind in 2017 German election results

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

A far-right campaign sign urging Germans to stop “Islamification” of Germany. Image courtesy of Getty Images. 

BERLIN, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel won a fourth term after the general election on September 24th.

The results come during a shift in European politics. Many frustrations have risen over the migrant crisis, including Germany’s high intake of refugees coming from the middle east.

Despite this, Chancellor Merkel’s conservative party won a slim majority in Germany’s coalition government. The Social Democrats, whom the conservatives work closely with, came in second with 33%.

But 13% of the vote went to the far-right party Alternative for Deutschland, raising concerns for many about potential opposition.

Indeed, Alternative for Deutschland (“AfD”) has already begun to express this sentiment.

The head of the AfD party, Alexander Gauland, has already told supporters that the government should “dress warmly” in preparation.

The vote makes AfD the third largest party in the coalition government.

This is the first time in over 60 years that a far-right nationalist party has had any control in the German government.

AfD raises many concerns within Germany. The party is vehemently anti-immigration, including the taking in of refugees, and has expressed anti-Muslim sentiment in many of its platforms.

Leaders of the party have suggested that Germany stop “apologizing” for its past Nazi ideology, stating, “If the French are rightly proud of their Emperor…We have the right to be proud of the German soldiers in two world wars.”

The AfD favors closure of German borders, citing fears over “Islamification” of the west.

Part of the policy platform includes banning the Burka, a common clothing item for Muslim women, and cutting off any foreign funding for mosques in Germany.

Its election “manifesto” contains a section explaining why the party believes that “Islam does not belong in Germany.”

“It is worrying,” said Michael Fuchs, a member of the Christian Democrat Bundestag*. “[For the first time since World War II] there will be a political party within the walls of the Reichstag building which does not distance itself from the Nazi past and which tolerates members who publicly express themselves in racist and xenophobic language.”

Political scientists in Germany cite disillusionment and frustration with establishment as two possible reasons for why AfD received such a large percentage of the vote.

“Many voters have felt that the two parties have not addressed the issue of immigration and German cultural identity,” Gideon Botsch, a political scientist from the University of Potsdam said.

“And that has led them to consider voting for the AfD.”

This election leads to a complicated situation for Chancellor Merkel. It remains to be seen whether the AfD will have any impact on the refugee population of Germany in the future.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Angela Merkel Is Headed for German Election Victory as Far Right Enters Parliament – 24 September 2017

The Guardian – German elections 2017: Angela Merkel makes gains, exit poll says – live updates – 24 September 2017

CNN – German election: Angela Merkel set for fourth term as far-right surges – 24 September 2017

The Independent – German elections: Far-right wins MPs for first time in half a century – 24 September 2017

ABC News – Merkel wins fourth term as German far-right party makes gains – 24 September 2017

NPR – Far-Right German Party Could Lead Opposition After Sunday’s Election – 22 September 2017

Al-Jazeera – Who are Germany’s far-right AfD? – 21 September 2017

BBC News – What does Alternative for Germany (AfD) want? – 18 September 2017

Merkel takes stronger stance against Turkey for detaining Germans

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

BERLIN, Germany – German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a decisive reaction to Turkey’s arrest of two more German citizens on Friday, September 1st.

The detainees are being held in Turkey on political charges. They join the twelve others who have been imprisoned in Ankara since February.

Chancellor Merkel believes that under the circumstances, it would be inappropriate to “carry out further discussions with Ankara about its participation in a European Union customs union.”

The Turkish government has been working towards becoming a European Union member for several years. As a result of political turmoil starting with the failed coup d’etat in 2016, the country has not succeeded with their bid.

Tensions between Turkey and Germany have been rising since the arrests of human rights activists in February. Deniz Yucel has been held for 200 days in Turkey on charges of “terror propaganda.”

Later, German human rights activist Peter Steudtner and nine others were detained and charged with “committing crimes in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.”

And in early August, Dogan Akhanli, Turkish-German critic of Turkey’s President Erdogan, was arrested in Spain. It remains unclear on what charges Mr. Akhanli is being held on. German Member of Parliament Volker Beck requested that Mr. Akhanli not be extradited to Turkey.

Other Europeans have been arrested in Turkey over alleged involvement in last year’s failed coup against President Erdogan.

Leaders across Europe have denounced President Erdogan’s actions. Germany has already threatened to place travel and trade restrictions on Turkey if the activists are not released from detainment.

The newest arrests come at a turbulent time in German politics. On September 24th, Germans will go to the polls to either re-elect Chancellor Merkel for a fourth term or to replace her.

President Erdogan earlier in August called on Turkish-German voters to boycott the two main parties in Germany, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. Erdogan also suggested a boycott of the Green Party, believing them to be “enemies of Turkey.”

It remains to be seen what the results of the election will be. But Chancellor Merkel and her main opponent, Martin Schulz, do agree on one thing: suspending talks of Turkey’s EU customs union bid.

“This is a development of dramatic significance,” Mr. Schulz stated at a recent campaign event. “As part of [Erdogan’s] paranoid counter-putsch, he is reaching out for our citizens on the territory of European Union states.”

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Turkey detains two Germans in relation to Gulen probe – 1 September 2017

Reuters – Germany may ‘rethink’ Turkey ties after two more Germans detained: Merkel – 1 September 2017

CNN – Germany accuses Turkey of arresting 2 more Germans for “political reasons” – 1 September 2017

BBC News – Time to ‘rethink’ turkey relations, says Merkel – 1 September 2017

Reuters – German writer critical of Turkey’s Erdogan arrested in Spain – 19 August 2017

BBC News – Erdogan critic Dogan Akhanli arrested in Spain – 19 August 2017

BBC News – Q&A: Turkey and the EU – 6 October 2004

 

Germany cracks down on far-left internet platforms

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe

Riots erupted in Hamburg at the G20 summit in July. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

BERLIN, Germany – The German government shut down a far-left anti-capitalist website on August 25th.

The crackdown on extremism comes several weeks after anti-capitalist groups stormed the G20 summit in Hamburg. In July, the groups clashed with police, ending in violence between the two parties.

At the summit, hundreds of anti-capitalist protestors descended on Hamburg. The protestors lit cars on fire and looted near where the world leaders were convening.

The police used water cannons and tear gas to disburse the protestors. The skirmish ended with 76 police officers injured. An unknown number of protestors were injured as well.

Germany decided to take down the websites they alleged had ties to the violence at the G20 summit. The main website, linksunten.indymedia.org, was said to have been used to organize the unauthorized protest in Hamburg.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters that the websites were taken offline because they were “sowing hate against different opinions and state officials.”

While there is a Constitutional right to freedom of expression and right to peaceably assemble in Germany, de Maiziere argues that the “alt-left” websites are outside the realm of constitutional protection.

Defining the online portal as an “association” rather than a media outlet is one way the websites are not protected.

As an association, Constitutional applications are less strict. A postwar statute criminalized inciting hatred against “segments of the population.” Since the websites are not considered media outlets, they run counter to the criminal codes.

According to authorities, officers searched the home of the websites operator. They seized laptops and minor weapons like knives and pipes.

Authorities have been grabbling with the rise of digital platforms for extremist views since the recent rise of the “alt-right” both in western Europe and elsewhere. Germany has already banned a far-right website, taking “Altermedia Deutschland” offline in January.

But this is one of the first reported aimed at “leftist” groups. One of the main reasons for such was the resonance of encouraging violence online. It was alleged that one of the websites shut down had instructions on building a Molotov cocktail, along with calling police officers “murderers” and “pigs.”

Spokesperson Ula Jelpke for German political party The Left, has called the decision an “illegitimate act of censorship.”

De Maiziere disagrees, saying that the websites “legitimize violence against police officers,” and that “this is absolutely unacceptable and incompatible with our liberal democratic order.”

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Germany, in a First, Shuts Down Left-Wing Extremist Website – 25 August 2017

BBC News – Germany bans far-left protest website over G20 riots – 25 August 2017

Reuters – Germany Bans Far-Left Website After G20 Violence – 25 August 2017

The Washington Post – In clampdown on left-wing ‘hate’, Germany bars website tied to G-20 violence – 25 August 2017

Reuters – Dozens of police injured in G20 protests as Merkel seeks consensus – 6 July 2017

The Guardian – G20 protests: police fire water cannon into anti-capitalist rally – 6 July 2017

CNN – G20 protests: Police, demonstrators clash in Germany – 6 July 2017

Tourists arrested in Berlin for Nazi salute

By: Sara Adams
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Europe 

The Reichstag building in the heart of Berlin. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

BERLIN, Germany – Two tourists from China were arrested in Berlin on August 5th for giving a Nazi salute.

The two men were outside of the Reichstag, the German parliament building.

In Germany, using symbols affiliated with the Nazis is illegal. Modern applications of these laws are often used to curb the rise of “alternative right” (alt-right) movements in the country.

The tourists were released when their bond was paid. They still will face criminal proceedings.

Though years have passed, Nazism has become popular among the alt-right crowd all across the European continent.

In April 2017, a Dutch drugstore chain stocked “color by number” coloring books, one page of which produced a caricature of Adolf Hitler. The drugstore immediately made a public apology and withdrew the coloring books from the store.

And in Austria in February 2017, a man was arrested while he was dressed as Hitler. The man was visiting Hitler’s birthplace of Braunau am Inn.  Glorifying Nazism is a crime in Austria as well.

Yet despite the sparse reminders of Germany’s horrible past, many continue to fight the current Nazi, or Neo-Nazi, movement.

A 70 year-old woman in late July spoke with news outlet Al-Jazeera about her anti-Fascist fight. She detailed her work on painting over and defacing any pro-Nazi street art she sees. The woman, Irmela Mensah-Schramm, has been doing this for three decades now.

Mensah-Schramm has been caught vandalizing before, and told by a judge to admit her charges and to promise to stop defacing property. But she held her ground, refusing to promise anything, and instead promising to not pay her fines for vandalizing.

Support of Nazism and Nazi ideals remains a crime in much of Europe. Yet the continent continues to see a rise in alt-right political candidates, some of whose values appear to coincide with the ideology of Nazism.

Violent crime against refugees and non-Western Europeans has also risen with the alt-right movement. Nearly 3,533 attacks on refugees or pro-refugee accommodations have been documented in Germany alone, as of 2016.

Of those, about 560 people were injured, 43 of those children.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Chinese tourists arrested for Hitler salute in Germany – 6 August 2017

The Telegraph – Chinese tourists arrested for giving Hitler salute outside Reichstag building in Berlin – 6 August 2017

The Guardian – Chinese tourists arrested for making Hitler salutes outside Reichstag – 5 August 2017

ABC News – Berlin: 2 Chinese tourists detained for making Nazi salutes – 5 August 2017

Al-Jazeera – Germany: 70-year-old anti-fascist defaces neo-Nazi art – 28 July 2017

BBC News – Hitler coloring book removed by Dutch shop after outrage – 6 April 2017

BBC News – Hitler lookalike arrested in Austria – 13 February 2017

 

Report Shows 10 Hate Crimes Per Day on Refugees in Germany in 2016

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

 

BERLIN, Germany — According to a report conducted by the German Interior Ministry, over 2,500 migrants in Germany were attacked in 2016 as the result of hate crimes.  560 migrants were injured, including 43 children.  Nearly 1,000 of the attacks were on migrant housing, and 217 of the attacks were on refugee organizations and volunteers.  An average of 10 attacks per day occured.

Police in Heidenau secure a refugee center from attacks from far-right extremists opposed to asylum accommodation (Photo Courtesy of The Independent)

In February 2016, a neo-Nazi was sentenced to eight years in jail for burning down a sports hall which housed refugees and caused $3.7 million worth of damage.  In another instance, a group of onlookers cheered as an asylum shelter in eastern Germany was engulfed in flames.

German authorities have recently tightened their refugee procedures, practicing stricter benefit rules, speeding up the process of removing failed asylum seekers, and paying refugees to voluntarily return to their home countries.  Though the country is still struggling with a backlog of asylum applications, Germany’s intake of refugees fell in 2016 to 280,000 from 890,000 in 2015.

The German government issued a statement strongly condemning the violence on refugees, commenting that “people who have fled their home country and seek protection in Germany have the right to expect safe shelter.”

A left-wing politician with the Die Linke party, Ulla Jelpke, blames the violence on far-right extremism, and called upon the government to take stronger action to eliminate the violence.  Jelpke asked whether “people have to die before the right-wing violence is considered a central domestic security problem and makes it to the top of the national policy agenda” and called on the government to “stop giving the impression through new tougher asylum laws that refugees are a threat.”

International human rights group Amnesty International commented that “there are structural problems in Germany with how it prevents and deals with hate crimes.”  Amnesty called for “better risk assessments, more protection at certain locations and prosecutions of these appalling racist crimes.”

2016 was the first year in which data was collected on the amount of attacks on refugees, so the total number of attacks cannot be compared with those of previous years.

 

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera — ’10 Attacks a Day’ Against Refugees, Shelters in 2016 — 26 February 2017

BBC — Germany Hate Crime: Nearly 10 Attacks a Day on Migrants in 2016 — 26 February 2017

The Independent — Nearly 10 Attacks on Refugees a Day in Germany in 2016 — 26 February 2017

International Business Times — Germany sees Hate Crimes Against Migrants Surge in 2016 to 3,500 — 26 February 2017

Germany Offers “Rent a Jew” Program to Combat Anti-Semitism

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

 

BERLIN, Germany —  Germany’s most recent attempt to combat anti-Semitism comes in the form of a program titled “Rent a Jew.”  Through the outreach program, those interested in learning more about the everyday lives of Jewish people are able to book a Jewish person for an informational session.  The program sends Jewish volunteers into German schools to speak about their experiences and to dispel commonly-held myths about the group.  The goal of the program is to draw light to the “ordinariness” of the Jewish community, and away from the view of the Jewish community as victims through the “Holocaust lens.”

The Rent-a-Jew website hopes to introduce Jewish people to the German community (Photo Courtesy of NY Daily News)
The Rent-a-Jew website hopes to introduce Jewish people to the German community (Photo Courtesy of NY Daily News)

Mascha Schmerling, one of the program’s leaders, tells reporters that the group’s aim is to “give people the chance to talk to the Jewish community.”  The group wants others to see that they are “completely normal people.”  Program organizer Alexander Rasumny explains that “[a] lot of people want to be more than just the regular Jewish stereotypes in Germany, reduced to victims. A lot of people want to be seen in their own right.”

As for the odd name of the program, Shmerling recognizes that they made the title “deliberately provocative” so that it would promote conversation.  According to Schmerling, the Jewish community is tired of hearing the anti-Semitic view that Jewish people are less valuable than other people.  The title of the program mixes humor and “chutzpah” as a step towards refuting such stereotypes.

On one recent trip to a German college, Shmerling and fellow speaker Monty Aviel Zeev Ott asked the students about rumors they have heard about Jewish people, and encouraged them to speak to any rumor even if it was unflattering.  On the trip, the Rent a Jew speakers also spoke to their holiday traditions, worship practices, and family recipes.

The Jewish speakers volunteer the time and do not get paid for their services, although the organization’s website suggests that hosts are welcome to pitch in for travel expenses of the volunteers if they are willing.  Students who have participated in the program thus far have described their experiences as “enlightening.”

 

For more information, please see:

NY Daily News — Germany’s Rent a Jew Program Hopes to Combat Anti-Semitism — 17 December 2016

Arutz Sheva — Germany Offers ‘Rent A Jew’ Services — 16 December 2016

Vox — “Rent a Jew” is an Actual Thing in Germany.  And, Amazingly, its a Good Idea. — 15 December 2016

Telegraph — Rent a Jew Service Now Available in Germany — 12 December 2016

German Music Festival Targeted by Suicide Bomber

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany —  A 27-year old Syrian detonated an explosive backpack near the entrance to a music festival in the German town Ansbach on July 25, killing himself and injuring 15 people with injuries ranging from serious to non-life threatening.  Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann stated that the backpack explosive device contained nails and screws, a measure indicative of an attempt to inflict widespread damage onto others. The bomber was rejected entry to the festival because he did not have a ticket to the event, and was seen lingering around the outside seating area of a wine restaurant around 10pm right before the bomb was detonated.

Police inspect the area near the wine bar in Ansbach where the bomb was detonated (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

The suicide bomber left behind a video on his cell phone pledging his allegiance to ISIS, and stated that the attack was revenge against Germans because they “obstruct Islam”.  Upon searching the bomber’s room after the attack, police also found bomb-making materials, as well as computer images and film clips linked to ISIS.  The bomber arrived in Germany in 2014 and applied for asylum, however found out two weeks ago that his application as denied, and he would have been deported to Bulgaria within 30 days of the denial.  Within the past two years, he had been in trouble with local authorities for drug-related offenses, and was under psychiatric observation following two previous suicide attempts.

This attack occurs in the midst of widespread criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s lenient immigration policy.  This past week alone, Germany has been the target of several violent attacks linked to ISIS, including a shooting rampage at a shopping mall in Munich and an ax attack on a train in Wurzburg.

Despite its loose immigration policy, Germany has been taking steps over the past couple of months to tighten security regarding asylum seekers in hopes of limiting the number of refugees who enter the country.  A newly proposed law would help speed up the application process for refugees, quickening the deportation process for those who are denied asylum.  Berlin has been in the process of negotiating a deal with Turkey to take back their citizens who are denied asylum in Germany.  These efforts seem to be successful, as the number of refugees arriving in Germany has fallen dramatically over the past year.

 

For more information, please see:

CNN — Ansbach Bomber in Germany Pledged Allegiance to ISIS Leader — 26 July 2016

DW — As Attacks Rattle Germany, Chancellor Merkel Finds Herself in the Spotlight — 25 July 2016

NBC — 12 Injured, Bomber Killed Outside German Music Festival — 25 July 2016

New York Times — Suicide Bomber in Ansbach, Germany, Pledged Loyalty to ISIS, Officials Say — 25 July 2016

Reuters — Bavarian Bomber Pledged Allegiance to Islamic State: Minister — 25 July 2016

Germany Officially Recognizes Armenian Genocide

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

BERLIN, Germany — This past Thursday, a near-unanimous vote by the German parliament officially recognized the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 as a genocide.  Germany is home to an estimated three million Turks, two thousand of which demonstrated in Berlin opposing the German parliament’s ability to pass judgment.  France passed similar legislation in 2011, to which Turkey responded to by recalling its ambassador in Berlin and freezing military cooperation between the two countries.

German lawmakers vote in favor of decision to recognize Armenian genocide (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

This declaration by the German parliament comes at a time in which strong foreign relations between Turkey and the European Union (EU) are vital, as the EU as a whole needs Turkey’s help in managing the refugee migrant crisis.  As a result of a recent migrant deal between Turkey and the EU, a Syrian refugee in Turkey is resettled in the EU for every Syrian refugee that is returned to Turkey from Greece.  Turkey also agreed to take necessary measures to prevent open migration routes between Turkey and the EU.

German diplomats across the world have spoken out to encourage Turkey to maintain ties with Germany despite the decision.  The German Foreign Minister in Argentina, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, stated that he hoped the decision would not cause Turkey to overreact.  German lawmakers see the move not as a jab at the Turkish government, but rather as a way to strengthen reconciliation efforts between Turkey and Armenia.

This decision has caused significant unrest in Turkey.  Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan called this decision a “plot” against Turkey, and criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel for not intervening to prevent the vote (Merkel did not take part in the vote).  Erdogan stated that the decision would “seriously affect” Turkey’s ties with Germany, however would not affect Turkey’s ties with the EU.  Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim condemned the decision as “irrational” and predicted that it would put the friendship of the two countries to a serious test.  A spokesman for Erdogan went so far as to blame Germany for relying on “lies” about Ottoman Armenians.

Within two hours of the vote, Turkey recalled its ambassador in Berlin for “consultations” and summoned a German diplomat to the foreign ministry in Ankara, the capital city of Turkey.

For further information, please see:

CNN — Germany Declares 1915 Armenian Killings a “Genocide” — 2 June 2016

Reuters — Germany Triggers Turkish Outcry with Armenian Genocide Vote — 2 June 2016

The Guardian — Turkey Recalls Ambassador After German MPs’ Armenian Genocide Vote — 2 June 2016

The New York Times — German Parliament Recognizes Armenian Genocide, Angering Turkey — 2 June 2016

Business Standard — Turkey Says German Recognition of Armenian Genocide is a ‘Plot’ — 4 June 2016

PRI — Why Germany’s Recognition of Armenian Genocide is Such a Big Deal — 5 June 2016