Donald Trump's not the only one spreading anti-refugee rhetoric. The influx of refugees arriving on European shores and cities has sparked a wave of right-wing anger that is splitting the continent.
Recent weeks have seen a disturbing amount of anti-refugee sentiment spill forth from Europe’s divided political sphere. In Germany, especially, where relatively open-armed policies allowed more than 1 million migrants to claim asylum in 2015, domestic tensions are nearing a fever pitch.
Frauke Petry, a German politician and leader of far right group AFD (Alternative for Germany), recently suggested that migrants attempting to cross Germany’s borders illegally should be shot. Her statement, which provoked major political and public backlash, reveals the growing confidence of radical far right groups and commentators in the midst of the refugee crisis.
Also in Germany, on the same weekend that Petry expressed her inflammatory remarks, an unidentified perpetrator threw a hand grenade into a refugee shelter in Villingen-Schwenningen, where over 170 migrants were housed in overnight accommodation. Fortunately, the attack did not succeed in killing any asylum seekers or centre staff. Police have since attributed the attack’s failure to a fault within the explosive’s inner mechanisms.
This increasingly violent hostility to refugees must be addressed quickly. Certainly a country will encounter major dilemmas when accepting hundreds of thousands of people from different lands who belong to different cultures. An example of this was seen in the aftermath of the mass sexual assaults in Cologne on NYE, which saw several hundred women attacked by a group of men who appeared to be of migrant origin. It has since been reported that only three out of 58 men arrested for the attacks so far were refugees from Syria or Iraq. While these types of offenses are inexcusable, they do not give license to make general targets of refugees. When influential speakers propose killing or maiming people who are looking for shelter, it foments an atmosphere of suspicion, hatred and fear that makes the world's most vulnerable even more so.
To be clear, Frauke Petry’s incendiary views on refugees are not representative of German views. Far from it, Chancellor Merkel held her country’s doors open to more than 1.1 million refugees in 2015, demonstrating a staunch commitment to defy intolerance and xenophobia. Just last October, Henriette Reker, the new mayor of Cologne suffered a knife wound to the neck after stating her support for Germany's pro-refugee policies.
But further afield, in Denmark, politicians have recently approved a law allowing the state to seize refugees’ valuables in order to pay for their maintenance. Yes, Danish authorities are now depriving people who have lost their homes, security and in many cases their families to war, of their belongings. The Danish government has said that the procedure is merely intended to cover the cost of each asylum seeker’s treatment by the state and that the law does not different from the existing welfare system for Danish citizens.
However, in line with the new law, Danish police have been given powers to stop and search asylum seekers and to confiscate any non-essential items worth more than £1000. Given that Danish citizens do not have to suffer the indignity of being frisked for their possessions, this policy is much more concerning than the Danish government would have us believe. We are seeing state-enforced theft aimed at society’s most endangered in a chilling policy that has drawn comparisons to the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. Switzerland has recently recently established similar laws, a further sign that we are witnessing influential European nations regress in their capacity to recognise and respect universal humanity.
It seems that as anti-refugee rhetoric gains prominence, European governments are starting to espouse these views. In the last couple of weeks, there have been European politicians calling for refugees be shot at the border, failed terrorist attacks on refugees shelters, and a revival of state-enforced confiscation of people’s goods.
As global citizens, we must stand up to the culture of fear that threatens to pervade Europe further by raising our voices against it and supporting those that risk life and limb for a fair shot at a better life.