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Helpers unload a truck of the food bank Tafel in Essen, western Germany, Feb. 27, 2018. Unknown people sprayed "Nazis" on the truck, the food bank was criticized after deciding to only register new users if they prove they've got German citizenship, claiming young foreign men are scaring away elderly people and women.
Martin Meissner/AP
Food & Hunger

This German Food Bank Closed Its Doors to Refugees

Amid an influx of people seeking help, a food bank in the German city of Essen enacted a new policy: no new foreign-born people are allowed to sign up for assistance, according to the BBC.

Refugees and migrants who had already signed up are allowed to continue getting food, but only Germans are allowed to apply for new slots.

The charity currently helps around 16,000 people in Essen, BBC reports, a city of more than 600,000.

Take Action: Show Your Support for All Refugees and Migrants

The new policy has sparked both outrage and applause throughout Germany, where a debate over refugees and migrants continues to rage three years after more than 1.2 million people began seeking asylum in the country.  

The head of the food bank, Jörg Sartor, said that the decision wasn’t motivated by xenophobia, although protesters have spray painted the word “Nazi” across the food bank’s doors and its delivery trucks, according to the New York Times.

Instead, he said, the decision was intended to make the food bank more accommodating to women and elderly people who have been intimidated from lining up for food because of allegedly aggressive young men who crowd the charity’s doors and push people out of the way to take as much food as they can, the Times reports.

Read More: A German Mayor Was Stabbed for Admitting 450 Refugees to His Town

Many people throughout Germany have praised Sartor and have sent funds to the food bank, according to the Times.

The far-right political party AfD defended the charity on Facebook, saying, "if you fight back, you're a Nazi,” the BBC reports.

But others say that the decision reflects the rising xenophobia throughout the country.

"One shouldn't run services on the basis of such categorisations,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the broadcaster RTL.

Read More: This Is What It Actually Costs Countries to Accept Refugees

“That's not good,” she said. “But it also shows the amount of pressure there is, and how many people are needy. That's why I hope they can find good solutions which do not exclude groups."

Ultimately, the decision reflects the ongoing tension surrounding the millions of asylum seekers who have arrived in Germany in recent years, according to the Times, and the struggle that has accompanied efforts to integrate them.

It also highlights the desperation experienced by thousands of asylum seekers who may have lost their families and experienced other traumas, may not speak German, and may not have any way of earning an income because of restrictions, the Times notes.

But the concept that there’s not enough aid to go around is misguided, according to Jochen Brühl, the head of the food bank’s parent organization, who spoke with the Times.

Read More: Refugee Women Are Baking to Help Find Their Footing in Germany

Germany is the wealthiest nation in Europe and has a budget surplus of $55 billion.

“The whole country is up in arms about this one little food bank in Essen,” Brühl said, “when the real scandal is that in this rich country we have this kind of poverty.”

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