The beginning of April saw the launch of a new Berlin Institute for Empirical Research on Migration and Integration (BIM) at Humboldt University. Comprised of six specialist departments ranging from ‘Integration, Social Networks and Cultural Lifestyles’, to the migration-health nexus, it will also provide foundational research into migration and integration. Inquiry at BIM will be geared towards developing “basic scientific principles and empirical data aimed at providing a factual basis for debate on integration issues in Europe”. To this end, they also intend to engage actively with civil society and participate actively in public debate.
A week into the month, the refugee protest camp on Oranienplatz in Berlin was finally dismantled following an agreement between leaders of the protest and municipal authorities. Refugee activist Napuli, however, kept up the occupation of the space by climbing a tree and holding it for days. This way, she stood down the authorities and forced them to uphold the part of the agreement which allows for an information tent to remain on the square. On 1 May, with Labour Day street celebrations taking place in Kreuzberg, activists raised awareness and funds for their big protest march to Brussels which is to start on 17 May. Meanwhile, at the annual Labour Day Demonstration, 20,000 people declared their solidarity with refugees coming to Europe.
On a more sinister note, statistics were published mid-month that indicate a rise in acts of racist violence in Berlin and the former East Germany. Covering the year 2013, a consortium of counselling services for victims counted 737 attacks, which amounts to a rise of 18% since 2012. While direct attacks on immigrants committed by neo-nazi thugs are a sad but well-documented characteristic of life in the eastern parts of the country, a new trend of more sophisticated and less obvious xenophobia can be observed when it comes to the housing of asylum-seekers. Most recently, in the wealthy Hamburg suburb of Harvestehude, the announcement of plans to accommodate 220 Syrian refugees in a currently vacant building block spawned curious forms of rejection. Arguments against the housing plan ranged from pointing out the lack of affordable groceries in the area, to the irresistable lure of expensive cars to people from a poor and war-torn background. However, a good part of Harvestehude residents seems to be welcoming.
Nonetheless, a general trend of xenophobic sentiment, often combined with a “euro-sceptic” element, is visible and has found its institutional home in the political party Alternative für Deutschland. The party scored a relative success in last year’s parliamentary elections very soon after its inception and is now gearing up for the European Parliamentary election on 25 May.
“Migrationist Monthly” is a series on The Migrationist. Once a month, we’ll be offering you a rundown of that month’s immigration news for selected countries in 500 words or less.