Migration-related debate in Germany, which centred on the housing of refugees throughout the year, reached a new level of controversy in December. At the end of November, a ten-year high of 155,427 applications for asylum since January was recorded. A solid 22% of applications came from war-torn Syria alone. Individual stories like that of Ali Najaf show that refugees deliberately choose to come to Germany for the sake of its system of free education and social security. In mid-2014, Germany had been polled the most positively viewed country in the world. Its positive image also makes it a top destination for migrants overall: the Migration Policy Institute places it third globally. But while some Germans may feel flattered by their nation being seen so favourably by foreigners, a growing number seems to want nothing to do with them.
Over the course of 2014, anti-immigrant sentiment has risen continually, as mentioned in the March and May editions of Migrationist Monthly. December saw an alarming record-high of 17,500 participants in a single anti-immigrant and anti-Islam demonstration in Dresden. All over the country, smaller off-shoots of the movement have been formed which calls itself Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West or “Pegida.” Their messages are as shocking as they are crude, ranging from scaremongering about foreign domination to outright derision of Islam.
Although the Guardian dubs Pegida a movement of “pinstripe nazis”, that term obscures the underlying issues. Pegida draws on various social groups ranging from well-off middle class to the unemployed and poorer elderly. Their motivations are equally diverse, some fear to lose out to asylum-seekers while others see themselves defending Western values. The threats they are painting, however, have little to do with realities is Eastern Germany which has very low numbers of both Muslims and immigrants. Pegida’s slogans seem geared to provoke attention and tell off the established political class and the mainstream media. Thus, a strong factor in Pegida’s success is a feeling of being let down by the government. Worryingly, established Neonazis are able to lock arms with otherwise quite “normal” citizens and broadcast their racist message more widely. Meanwhile, racist crimes like the arson attack on a refugee residence in Vorra, Bavaria on 12 December are on the rise.
As the month ended, the main political parties were still grappling with the movement, arguing whether to see Pegida as an expression of people’s fears that should be taken seriously or to take a clear stance against their racist slogans. What remains clear is that the situation of refugees who choose to come to Germany in the hope of building a new life are not helped as attention shifts to the Germans’ real or imagined fears.