′Afraid in Baghdad,′ not in Dresden | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 19.09.2015
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'Afraid in Baghdad,' not in Dresden

Dresden has been catching flak for poor refugee camp conditions and renewed anti-migrant protests. The city's attempts to cope with the both issues have left refugees and locals unhappy. Kathleen Schuster reports.

"Most everyone has a cold. You can count the number of people who don't," a Tunisian man said of Dresden's refugee transit camp, which currently provides accommodation to roughly 1,000 people.

The Red Cross had less than a week to plan the camp and set it up. Not long after opening in late July, stories of inhumane conditions caused by overcrowding sparked a media storm. Too few toilets, no privacy for medical consultations, tents overheating in the summer sun. There was an outbreak of scabies and fever despite medical care available to the refugees. A doctor at the camp spoke of "humanitarian catastrophe" and compared what he saw there to conditions seen only in war zones.

Over a month later, only a few changes have been made. Officials have moved medical checks from nearly 80 kilometers (50 miles) away in the Saxon city of Chemnitz to less than five minutes up the street at the Red Cross building. But there are still only 35 toilets for a camp of 1,000 people. Red Cross guidelines call for 50 toilets per 1,000 people.

A doctor from Iraq, who wanted to remain anonymous, told DW that it felt like the camp was being mismanaged. "Why the government of Dresden or Germany, why put these people here?" he said in English.

A Tunisian man who arrived at the camp in August said he felt officials were doing everything they could, but added that those efforts sometimes fell short.

"There's a warm meal for lunch, but it's usually not something you can eat," he told DW. "Usually, you don't know what's in it. It's something that looks and tastes funny."

Deutschland Flüchtlingskrise Zeltstadt in Dresden

Awaiting a decision on their asylum request, these refugees must forgo privacy for weeks, if not months

'The lesser of two evils'

Indeed, the situation in Dresden has drawn further attention to another problem, which is neither unique to the city, nor its state, Saxony: finding adequate housing for their initial arrival. The state has taken in 40,000 refugees over the past year. According to the latest prognosis, that figure could quadruple by the end of the year.

"We can't let these people sleep outdoors," Saxony Red Cross press officer Torsten Wieland told DW, emphasizing that pitching a tent wasn't the aid organization's ideal choice but that it was the quickest way to establish temporary accommodation.

Deutschland Flüchtlingskrise ehemaliges technisches Rathaus in Dresden

Dresden's former technical city hall - empty since 2010 - is to be used for refugees

Shortfalls heighten tensions

The scramble to accommodate what some locals fear are too many refugees and a barrage of media reports of refugees pouring into Germany by the tens of thousands have played a role in the resurgence of populist movement PEGIDA, or the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, which revived its mass demonstrations this summer. Last week, the group's so-called "evening stroll" drew roughly 4,000 people.

"As far as our image goes, they're not great for Saxony. But, in the end, PEGIDA is just an expression of the fact that many people have questions that can't be answered in politics right now," Saxony's commissioner for foreigners, Geert Mackenroth, told DW.

Regardless of public discontent, Saxony, like all other German states, has an obligation to fulfill its quota when it comes to taking in asylum seekers, and Mackenroth said he's seen exemplary instances of good will in the efforts to accommodate the many thousands seeking refuge in his state.

Dresden, Flüchtlingslager in der Dresdner Schnorrstraße

Signs at the Dresden opera read: "Open your eyes. Open your hearts. Open your doors. Human dignity is inviolable."

'Afraid in Baghdad,' not in Dresden

The refugees, who often travel from the camp along a gravel sidewalk into Dresden, are largely shielded from the xenophobic speech that has echoed from the baroque architecture countless times over the past year during demonstrations. But they still know what's going on from social media.

The Tunisian man said the protests haven't caused refugees to regret coming to Germany, but "they would've liked it to be different, without stress, without having to fear that something bad will happen."

An Iraqi woman, however, said she was not worried about the anti-migrant sentiment among some Dresdeners: "Here, I'm fine. In Baghdad, I'm afraid. Here, I'm free."

Others at the camps, who said they are aware of the demonstrations, added that they have had mainly positive experiences, especially when they've needed help.

'Many different sides to Dresden'

Dresden, Werbung gegen Pegida vor der Semperoper

The Red Cross printed pictures drawn by refugees onto the camp's walls to humanize the people housed there for passersby

People in Dresden are generally cautious when it comes to talking about both the city's refugee accommodations and the populist PEGIDA group and requests for their views are often met with a solid "nein."

"It's very polarizing," a born and bred Dresdner, who asks to be named simply as Herzog, told DW, adding that people had become accustomed to adjusting their comments to avoid confrontations. "Within half a minute of conversation, you know who you're talking to and how you should express yourself if you want to be able to continue talking."

In addition to the PEDGIA rallies, he pointed out that there are "Refugees welcome" signs all over his neighborhood.

"There are many facets of Dresden," he said. "I can only ask that you take a look around and try to understand your opponents and try to talk to many different people. Try not to shut them out."

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