Clausnitz copes with ugly scenes at refugee shelter | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 24.02.2016
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Clausnitz copes with ugly scenes at refugee shelter

The village of Clausnitz, Saxony, has dominated German headlines in the past week, after a jeering mob attempted to stop the arrival of 20 refugees. As Ben Knight reports, Clausnitz is weary of the unwanted attention.

Clausnitz is not fond of the attention that it has received in the past few days. The Saxon village of just 900 people seems to like being tucked away in the foothills of the Ore mountains, barely 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the Czech border. It is served by only a single railway line; its few roads are narrow, winding and sidewalk-free.

Meanwhile, most of the homes are large houses for single families, and there is no high street of bars or cafes - just the odd bakery, and, at the edge of town, a small supermarket. "We've always lived quietly here, let's hope it stays that way," said one elderly woman, shoveling snow from her front steps.

It wasn't quiet here last Thursday evening, when a bus carrying about 20 refugees from the Middle East was surrounded by a jeering mob as it tried to bring them to a new shelter. The police reported that as many as a hundred people gathered around - and a tractor, a car, and a small truck blocked the driveway to the buildings. The police statement suggested a horribly hostile atmosphere, with terrified refugees inside the bus, while the crowd chanted and laughed when police ordered them to disperse.

Locals, however, were keen to downplay the scene. One neighbor, who had watched from her window, did not think the crowd had been that big. "Only if they counted all the police and security, too," she told DW. "So much gets exaggerated. There were maybe 50 at the very most."

Flüchtlingsunterkunft in Clausnitz

The refugees have moved into the shelter in Clausnitz

By the end of the three-hour operation, 30 officers had been sent to the scene, including both federal and local police. Meanwhile some 13 charges had been filed, for illegal assembly, breaching public peace, and threatening to commit a crime.

The police were heavily criticized after an officer was filmed grabbing a 15-year-old boy from the bus and forcing him into the building. At a press conference at the weekend, local police president Uwe Reissmann defended the action. "There's nothing to say against this operation," he said. "So as not to escalate the situation even further and risk injuries and property damage, it was necessary to get the asylum seekers into the home as quickly as possible. In order to do that simple direct force was necessary in the case of three of the new arrivals."

Much to the outrage of many, Reissmann also added that "one or two passengers on the bus" would also face investigation for allegedly inciting violence. (The 15-year-old is alleged to have stuck his middle finger up at the crowd). On Tuesday, a group of Social Democratic lawyers called for Reissmann to be suspended.

One week on

On Wednesday, everything was much calmer - unlike in Bautzen, where a planned refugee shelter was set on fire over the weekend, there was no sign of any protesters, either against or in support of refugees.

There was not even a police officer in sight outside the building. Pia Leson, spokeswoman for the Saxony interior ministry, told DW that local authorities are responsible for tailoring security measures for asylum shelters. "When pertinent information arises, the police takes site-specific measures around asylum housing, in order to prevent or defend against attacks on endangered facilities or their inhabitants," she said.

Deutschland Clausnitz Polizeipräsident Uwe Reißmann

Some want Police President Uwe Reissmann suspended

Apart from a Red Cross car parked outside, there was no indication that anyone other than ordinary Clausnitzers live inside the new asylum shelter. It consists of ten apartments - nine for residence and one as an administration office. Two Iraqi women, emerging from a minibus that had just taken them on a shopping run, smiled and said, in broken English, that things were "better now" after last week.

Scandals on scandals

On Tuesday, the local district council announced that the director of the asylum home, Thomas Hetze, was to be replaced, after it emerged that he was a member of the anti-asylum party Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany), who at an event in nearby Freiberg had claimed that the United States had deliberately incited the refugee crisis by destabilizing the Middle East. "We took the decision to protect his person because of the national discussion about him," councillor Matthias Damm said in the statement. (Hetze is not being sacked, however, but moved to a new job within the property management company.)

The statement also said that the council was trying to "re-evaluate" last Thursday's events, and would analyze "questions of the information and communication chain" - bureaucratic language suggesting that the authorities are keen to find out how the demonstration had been organized - as no plans had been made public.

Deutschland Ministerpräsident Stanislaw Tillich in Dresden

State Premiere Tillich has been accused of inaction

State broadcaster MDR had a possible answer for this: It reported on Tuesday that Thomas Hetze's brother Karsten had helped organize the protest - and that he regretted how it had developed. "This is a sad story, and we say now, we're sorry," Karsten Hetze told MDR. "That was somehow incited by other people who were around, and for certain reasons we couldn't prevent it - no chance. We didn't surround the bus; we were just standing all around."

Meanwhile, "Der Spiegel" magazine reported on Tuesday that yet another Hetze brother, Frank, is gaining business from the arrival of refugees - his metal construction firm Metallbau Hetze, located a couple of miles from Clausnitz, is supplying metal containers for a shelter in Leipzig.

A quiet life

For their part, the people in Clausnitz whom DW spoke with were convinced that most of those taking part in last Thursday's ugly scenes were not locals - and there was deep suspicion toward the media. "It's getting a bit annoying," said one neighbor, while a woman working in a nearby bakery said, "I don't want to say anything, it all just gets twisted. We're getting painted as criminals [... ]The people in Clausnitz are nice people."

Only one, an old man living next door to the new refugee home, was willing to give his name. "As long as they (the refugees) leave us in peace I don't mind," said the 83-year-old Reinwald Venus. "Their culture doesn't really fit here. I mean, you hear that their religion is very important to them. But obviously it wouldn't be true to say that all Muslims butcher people."

He reserved his angriest words for the German government: "They've completely lost contact with the people," he said.

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