Germans intern foreigners

Issue 

By Angela Matheson

One night in September, 230 asylum seekers and up to 100 Vietnamese and African guest workers were evacuated under police escort after mobs of neo-Nazis laid siege to the apartment blocks where they lived in the east German town of Hoyerswerda.

Armed with baseball bats, bricks, bottles, bike chains and Molotov cocktails, gang members rampaged through corridors smashing windows, beating down doors, bashing occupants and threatening to burn alive those barricaded in their apartments.

As the buses carrying the foreigners to the safety of an nearby army base pulled out of town, the attackers hurled bricks in their wake.

No arrests were made.

The government responded in what has since become its characteristic style for handling the worst racial violence to sweep Germany since World War II — it blamed the victims.

Rudolph Krause, interior minister for Saxony, under whose jurisdiction Hoyerswerda lies, suggested the victims had in part provoked the attacks. "We must all admit there are asylum seekers who do not behave according to local customs or in a manner befitting our cultural heritage", he said.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl's ruling Christian Democrats are citing the attack as evidence that Article 16 of the constitution, which guarantees asylum for political refugees, needs to be reviewed.

All over Germany, authorities have seized the opportunity to push for tougher immigration laws, arguing that racist attacks are caused by too many people being let into the country — up to 40,000 people seek political asylum each month.

When police and local councils claimed they could no longer contain attacks or protect asylum homes, the government and opposition parties were united in a plan to set up large collection camps, guarded by armed police, where the tens of thousands of immigrants within Germany would be moved.

One of the camps lies on the outskirts of Cottbus, a town near the Polish border. It was an army base until last May, when the Red Army moved out. Now, the refugees are moving in — 700 in all. When pictures of the camp's high metal fences, barbed wire and searchlights hit the newsstands, there was an outcry across Europe. Embarrassed by critics who claimed the camps were reminiscent of the internment of the Jews, the authorities had the barbed wire taken down.

Some of the victims of the Hoyerswerda attacks ended up at the makeshift collection centre for asylum seekers in Hamburg. Their new homes are boats floating in the port — seven in all house up to 2400 refugees at a time, many of whom are Yugoslavs fleeing civil war. Some of the boats are new and clean, built specially to house immigrants, but some are old tugs. Groups like Amnesty International burg authorities say the city is full.

Since 1945, 5 million immigrants from Mozambique, Vietnam, Italy, Turkey, Yugoslavia and Spain have poured into Germany as guest workers. Neither they nor their German-born children are granted citizenship or any other political entitlement like the right to vote.

Now, jobs are scarce, and foreigners are no longer needed.

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