The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Germany:
Those Who Reject Refugees and Those Who Welcome Them

Oct 26, 2015

This article is from the October 23rd, 2015 edition of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

In Dresden, the capital of the east German state of Saxony, a demonstration organized by the anti-immigrant movement PEGIDA was able to attract more than fifteen thousand participants on October 19th. In opposition to the far right and to these anti-immigration protestors, about the same number of demonstrators came to show their support for the refugees.

It is estimated that in 2015, between 800,000 and just over one million refugees will have arrived in Germany and filed for asylum there. The introduction of checkpoint inspections at the borders in mid-September has not lowered the number of new arrivals. In fact, the rate has actually increased to 10,000 per day. Several special trains are bringing more refugees from Austria to Germany all the time.

All across the country, in the big cities as well as the smallest towns, just about anything that could serve as a shelter is seized upon once normal housing is no longer available. This includes gymnasiums, old barracks, prefabricated structures, and dilapidated buildings whose demolition has been stopped at the last minute in order to house the new arrivals after a slight renovation.… Temporary arrangements like tent cities have appeared all over, in the middle of the cities or on soccer fields. To give a sense of how widespread this is, in a city like Essen, there are seven tent cities, each one housing between 300 and 700 people. In Hardheim, a tiny town of 4,600 inhabitants, there are currently one thousand asylum seekers housed in an old army barracks. Between 600 and 800 migrants arrive every day in the capital, Berlin.

Some companies have certainly profited from this situation. Those who rent canvas structures and portable toilets and showers to the towns have never done such brisk business, nor have the hotels or the private companies guarding the emergency housing. Even though Chancellor Angela Merkel has explained that the German government will not compromise on the right to seek asylum, the federal government does not really assume responsibility for this task itself. This means that it is left up to the states, and above all to the local governments which are often in debt, to pay for a large part of the cost of housing, food, and education for migrants.

The right-wing parties CSU and AfD, who call themselves Euro-skeptics, have taken a radically reactionary course and are using the situation to shore up their own support on the backs of the migrants. In Dresden, it is not only PEGIDA but also the Neo-Nazis of the NPD, who had previously been running out of steam, that have regained their strength over the past few weeks by sharpening hostility to the migrants. The level of tension has increased, with demonstrators close to the far right becoming radicalized and threatening or attacking migrants and humanitarian or anti-racist militants.

On the other hand, there has been an increasing number of volunteers throughout the country who have taken up the initiative to provide help to the refugees, giving their time, money, and skills. This level of support remains high, such that without it, there would be total chaos in many of the temporary shelters. In Berlin, some militants find food, prepare it, and distribute it to the refugees on a daily basis so the refugees can have a second meal. Others help as best they can with medical aid for the many people who have physical or mental trauma or who have become ill after months of travel in deplorable conditions. Some teach courses or help with administrative procedures, while others distribute clothes or toys. Workers, nurses, doctors, and teachers are there every day, before or after work, while high school and college students bring help, ideas, and initiatives, without all of which the situation would be incomparably more difficult.

Among these people, many are conscious of the need to oppose the xenophobic demagogy, and they have demonstrated in many cities, in higher numbers than the far right.