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Sharp rise in right-wing crime in Germany just 'the tip of the iceberg'

Preliminary figures have shown that right-wing violence in Germany almost doubled in 2015, compared to 2014. Politicians and activists say the numbers will continue to rise - and 2016 isn't off to a good start.

The statistics were collected by the German interior ministry and then published by Left party politician Petra Pau, who issues regular monthly requests for data on crimes believed to have a far-right background, then compiles the information.

"I do this to get people to pay attention," Pau told DW. "I'm not a fan of statistics. I just firmly believe that you can only tackle problems if you really know what's going on in our society."

Petra Pau. (Photo: www.petrapau.de)

Pau: we should be alarmed

As far as right-wing extremism goes, things are looking pretty bleak in German society. Authorities registered a total of 13,846 relevant offenses in the past year - up 3,305 on 2014's provisional reporting.

And the 2015 figures are almost guaranteed to rise more. Generally, the official figures for the year, released around May, record far higher numbers, because people only file complaints later and because some crimes haven't been identified as politically motivated, since they're still being investigated. In 2014, for instance, a provisional tally of around 10,500 grew to an official count of more than 17,000 by the time police released the numbers.

False classifications could make for incorrect numbers

Pau expects the final count of right-wing crimes to grow by up to 30 percent. In the current statistics, there have been 921 cases of politically motivated violent crimes registered in 2015, almost double the number seen in 2014. Including the ones yet to come, "we had four to five right-wing violent crimes a day in 2015," Pau said.

Most of these violent offenses - 612 in total - were deemed xenophobic. This figure jumped from 316 xenophobic attacks in 2014. The number of people injured as a result of xenophobic assaults also rose from 272 to 459 between 2014 and 2015.

While this might sound like a lot, the dark figure is likely a lot higher still. Not everyone who is the victim of an attack reports it to the police. And in some cases, the investigators might not classify a crime as having a right-wing motive.

The most famous example of this were the

murders

committed by the German nationalist terrorist group "National Socialist Underground" (NSU). From 2000 till 2006, the NSU killed nine men, eight of them with Turkish roots, one with Greek roots. For a long time, police didn't believe that the crimes had a racist or xenophobic background and investigated the victims' friends, family and colleagues. That the murders were in fact right-wing crimes was only discovered years later.

No end in sight

So far, it's not looking like 2016 will be much better than the previous year. In January alone, there were 26 incidents were refugees or the volunteers helping them were violently attacked and 21

arson attacks aimed at refugee homes

.

"The end of the explosively growing right-wing violence is not in sight," Timo Reinfrank from the anti-extremism Amadeu-Antonio-Foundation tweeted.

As in 2014, however, a very small proportion of the reported crimes in 2015 led to police detentions, and fewer still to formal arrest warrants. In all, 194 people were taken in for questioning, and 17 arrest warrants were issued for perpetrators of right-wing crimes.

The statistics also show that it's not just immigrants or foreigners who fall victim to right-wing extremists. Of the almost 14,000 politically motivated right-wing crimes registered in 2015 so far, 4,183 were thought to have a xenophobic motive.

"Neo-Nazis attack everyone that doesn't fit into their crude worldview," Pau said. "That includes gays and lesbians, homeless people, but also journalists."

The Left party politician is calling the spike in right-wing crime an extremely dangerous development. She believes that the crimes are just "the tip of the iceberg" in a society that is moving ever further right, as evidenced by the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement and right-wing populist party like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) gaining more and more supporters.

"We're well past a situation where we can nip this in the bud," Pau stressed. "It's high time that democratically-minded people join forces across party boundaries and work together to prevent crimes like these from happening. This begins way before violence is ever used - in school, at work and anywhere where discrimination and exclusion occur."

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