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Pakistani and Afghan refugees fear backlash after Berlin attack

The Berlin terrorism attack has raised concerns about violence against Germany's asylum seekers. DW spoke to several refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan about their impression of the situation.

On Monday night, a truck slammed into a crowded Christmas market in central Berlin, killing at least 12 people and wounding 48. The suspected driver was detained near the scene while a passenger - reported to be a Polish national - was found dead in the truck.

The attention for the first day of investigations, however, was focused on the origins of the suspect: Some news agencies are suggesting that the driver was a 23-year-old Pakistan refugee, who came to Germany last year. He could well be an Afghan or Afghan-Pakistani. By Tuesday evening, police had released the suspect due to insufficient evidence.

Still, thousands of Pakistani and Afghan refugees in Germany fear what impact Monday's attack will have on them - particularly from their host country's far-right groups - as it's not the first time a refugee has terrorized Germans.

In July, the "Islamic State" ("IS") militant group claimed responsibility for two attacks carried out by asylum seekers in the Bavarian town of Ansbach. In August, a 17-year-old Afghan asylum seeker was shot dead by German police after he attacked several passengers in a train near the southern German city of Würzburg with an axe and knife, inflicting serious injuries. Barely two months later, a 19-year-old medical student Maria was allegedly raped and murdered by an underage Afghan refugee while she was returning home from a party.

'It will make things worse for us'

"I am still finding it hard to believe that somebody from Pakistan could do something like this. We have faced tremendous hardships on our way to reach Europe. And if it is proven that a Pakistani refugee has committed a terrorist act in Berlin, I'm afraid this will make things worse for us," said Akber Ali, a 36-year-old Pakistani refugee in Bonn, who came to Germany last year.

Berlin-based Pakistani migrant Muhammad Bilal says this incident will likely spark hatred against Pakistani nationals in general.

Freiburg Gedenken an die ermordete Studentin Maria (DW/M. Saifullah)

Afghan asylum seekers apologetic about Freiburg murder

Afghan refugees are equally worried about their future in Germany.

"The Berlin attack can be used politically by groups like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) that are opposing refugees. I fear that such attacks will also turn the public opinion against us," Nusrat Iqbal, an Afghan refugee based in the German city of Dortmund, told DW.

"I hope the Germans won't paint all refugees with the same brush because criminal activities should be taken as an individual act," Iqbal added.

Siegfried O. Wolf, the director of research at the Brussels-based South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF), agrees that the incident will have an impact on these groups.

"Germans will increasingly mistrust migrants now and certain political parties will try to gain political capital out of the attack. Also, the Berlin attack could lead to more actions by individuals against people with migration background," Wolf told DW.

Refugee policy

The attack could prove to be politically damaging for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has so far followed a liberal refugee policy.

"I know it will be especially hard for us to take if it is confirmed that the person who committed this attack sought protection and asylum in Germany," Merkel told reporters on Tuesday, adding that it would also be repugnant "toward the many people who need our protection every day and who are working on integration in our country".

Ahmad Samir Bayat, an Afghan journalist in Stuttgart, fears that the Berlin attack could force Merkel to tighten her refugee policy. "Such attacks will support the opposition against the chancellor and affect her open-door policy for the refugees," Bayat told DW.

Afghanistan - Flüchtlinge (Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)

The number of Pakistani refugees in Germany is not very high

A traumatized group

Germany saw an influx of over 1.1 million asylum seekers in 2015, more than any other European country. The highest number of asylum seekers came from Syria, followed by Afghanistan.

The number of Pakistani refugees in Germany is not very high, and many of them are believed to be economic migrants.

Many refugees have been unaccompanied minors.

"Germany received 4,400 claims by unaccompanied or separated children in 2014, which rose to 14,400 the following year," according to a report by the UN Refugee Agency, UNCHR. The majority of the underage asylum seekers came from Afghanistan, with about 4,700 filing asylum requests in 2015 alone, the highest levels since the UNHCR started systematically collecting such data in 2006.

"I witnessed very disturbing scenes on my way to Europe. I saw people dying. I cannot imagine what kind of an impact those memories can put on young boys and girls who are not with their families," said 19-year-old Abdullah, who has been living in Germany for almost a year.

Watch video 00:40

Ax attack on German train

Abdullah's statement highlights the trauma and shock underage migrants go through on their way to Europe. There are also reports of abuse by human traffickers which adds to their shock. But many migrants say that it is the uncertainty they face in Europe which causes greater harm to their mental health.

"Once we are here, we think the hard times are behind us, but then the wait and uncertainty begins," one asylum seeker told DW.

Due to the high number of asylum applications, many asylum seekers wait for months and, in many cases, years for a decision to be made on their application.

All this makes these young Afghan and Pakistani boys and girls more vulnerable to propaganda by extremists, said Said Hashim Hashimi of Katuri Tolana Organization, which helps migrants and refugees integrate into German society.

"It is therefore very important that these children be reminded of their responsibility toward their new society that they have become a part of," he added, stressing much more needed to be done to fully integrate those who arrive in Europe from very different cultures.

Additional reporting by Amanullah Jawad, Aasim Saleem and Masood Saifullah.

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