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European rights body concerned over rising racism in Germany

The Council of Europe has said reports of rising racism against Muslims and refugees in Germany are concerning. However, the human rights body also noted that protection for minority rights is high.

The human rights watchdog said the protection of minority rights is high in Germany and has been consistently strengthened, but an uptick in protests and attacks on asylum seekers and Roma and Sinti communities remains a concern.

"There have been worrying developments as regards public manifestations of racism and xenophobia," the Council said in a report on minorities published on Thursday.

"While there have been

strong counter-demonstrations

as well as statements by the authorities in support of diversity and mutual respect, sustained efforts are still needed to foster a climate of tolerance and intercultural dialogue," the report added.

The findings of the report, which was written in March, came before a massive flow of asylum seekers had created the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, with Germany expecting up to 1 million asylum applications this year.

Germany has earned international praise for its policy of accepting refugees, but the influx of people has led to a series of

attacks and protests against refugees and their housing

, as well as clashes between the far-right and far-left groups. On Sunday, Germany's intelligence chief, Hans-Georg Maassen

warned of rising xenophobia and radicalization of right-wing groups

responding the refugee influx.

Alarmed by PEGIDA

The Council specifically said it was "alarmed" at the weekly

anti-Islam PEGIDA demonstrations

held last winter in Dresden and similar protests in other cities, which at the time drew thousands of supporters.

"These demonstrations stigmatize immigrants, asylum-seekers and Muslims, feeding on and further fuelling prejudices against these groups," the report said. "The demonstrations also create a climate in which Muslims and persons with a migration or minority background feel unsafe."

But the reported added that the Council was pleased to see that "counter-demonstrations in support of diversity and tolerance, organized in Dresden and other cities, have frequently brought together more people than those of the 'Pegida' movement."

German authorities have sought to promote tolerance and prevent right-wing extremism, the Council said, pointing to effective public education in schools. It also commended Germany's anti-discrimination laws.

However, it added that debate over "poverty migration," or so-called

safe countries of origin,

has had a "damaging effect."

"Media reporting on questions relating to Islam, asylum-seekers and so-called 'poverty migration' has frequently amplified discriminatory discourse and reinforced prejudice," the human rights watchdog said. Media coverage of Roma and Sinti also perpetuated stereotypes, the report added.

The Council of Europe is a 47-member human rights body and separate from the European Union.

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