Germany: Angela Merkel visits asylum-seeker homes

Chancellor Angela Merkel at a shelter for asylum-seekers in Heidenau, eastern Germany. Picture: Getty
Chancellor Angela Merkel at a shelter for asylum-seekers in Heidenau, eastern Germany. Picture: Getty
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ANGELA Merkel has urged Germans to stand up against hatred and vowed zero tolerance for attacks against refugees, even as more than a hundred far-right protesters booed her visit to a shelter for asylum-seekers yesterday.

Mrs Merkel had travelled to Heidenau, Saxony, a small town near Germany’s eastern border with the Czech Republic, to express support for refugees following neo-Nazi riots at the site over the weekend. Dozens of police were injured when a far-right mob hurled bottles and fireworks at officers in an attempt to prevent asylum seekers from moving into a former hardware store south of Dresden on Friday and Saturday.

Her visit reportedly followed criticism that she had failed to openly condemn recent violence against the large numbers of refugees arriving in Germany.

“It’s shameful and repulsive what we experienced here,” Mrs Merkel said, speaking of the weekend disturbance. A couple of hundred yards away, far-right protesters jeered and sounded car horns to try and block out her words. Some protesters held placards denouncing the government, while others shouted “traitors” and “lying press.”

Speaking to reporters after meeting aid workers and some of the 560 refugees at the site, Mrs Merkel praised those “who have to endure hatred”.

“We need to use all our strength to make clear that we won’t tolerate those who call the dignity of others into question. There will be no tolerance toward those who are not prepared to help where help is needed,” she said, urging Germans to speak out against anti-foreigner sentiment in conversations with their families, friends and church groups.

Separately, President Joachim Gauck visited a reception centre for asylum-seekers in Berlin-Wilmersdorf, where he thanked students, doctors and volunteers who help refugees there and elsewhere across the country.

“They want to help, they want to show that there’s a bright Germany full of light, as opposed to the impression we get of a dark Germany when we hear about attacks on asylum seekers,” Mr Gauck said.

German officials say that the country faces a huge challenge trying to find enough adequate housing for the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who are arriving in the country each month. Authorities predict the number of refugees coming to Germany will rise to 800,000 by the end of 2015 which marks a fourfold increase on last year’s numbers.

While most Germans have been welcoming to the refugees, a minority has vocally opposed them. Attacks against refugees and asylum centres roughly doubled to 202 during the first half of the year, including a reported eight cases of arson.

Police arrested two intruders with knives entering a refugee home in Parchim in east Germany on Tuesday evening. The same night, a man threw a burning object at a planned home for 56 refugees in Leipzig. A mattress caught fire, but it was quickly extinguished, the German news agency dpa reported.