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Racist violence on the rise in Saxony

Interview: Christoph Hasselbach/ dbJanuary 15, 2015

In connection with the Dresden death of a young refugee from Eritrea, DW spoke to the head of a counseling service in the city in eastern Germany that is at the center of protests against Islam and immigration.

PEGIDA Demonstrators with German flag
Image: Reuters/F. Bensch

Deutsche Welle: The death of the Eritrean asylum seeker is still being investigated, so we shouldn't speculate. But you spoke to the man's roommates - what did they have to say?

Robert Kusche: Of course, they are shocked by the incident, and afraid they could become victims. They also said that in the past weeks, they have repeatedly experienced racist discrimination. They also said the man's body was covered in blood, which to a certain extent contradicts initial police statements.

In any case, the regular PEGIDA marches have been growing, in particular after the Paris attacks. Do you find that more victims of racist violence have been seeking your assistance? Is there a link?

The connection we see is that more people are telling us they see a lower threshold for discriminatory remarks, racist remarks, in the streets. I'd find it difficult to see a correlation between the PEGIDA marches and racist crimes in the state of Saxony. But we have noted an increase of racist violence over the past two years.

The Eritrean lived in a housing project with prefabricated high-rise buildings in a Dresden suburb. Taking into account the social make-up of the area, aren't such surroundings difficult for asylum-seekers?

Police car, housing project
The asylum-seeker lived in this Dresden neighborhoodImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Arno Burgi

That is hard to say; on the one hand, the area is densely populated; there are many people with low incomes, and there is some social tension. But it's an area where urban housing is available, where the asylum-seekers can be placed. Of course we would appreciate it if they could be housed more centrally, but that's up to the city. Even if there are incidents of far-right extremism and graffiti, people there have the opportunity to participate.

All the same, the man didn't live in a mass shelter for refugees, but in an apartment, close to other Eritreans. How significant is the housing situation?

For the refugees - who often suffer from traumatic experiences in their native countries or during their escape to Germany - it is much better to be placed in a shelter where they find people they can talk to in their own language and where they have more privacy than in mass accommodation.

What advice do you give asylum-seekers?

It depends on their needs, but basically, we tell them to press charges in case of rightwing crimes - to make the crimes visible and so authorities have a chance to convict the perpetrator. Often, we just talk because people need to process what they've been through, or we need to find out what kind of press coverage they want.

Would you go so far as to advise people to head to Germany's western states because they might get better treatment?

Unfortunately, that's not possible because in Germany, asylum seekers are assigned.

Reservations just seem to be greater in Saxony.

That's certainly the case if you look at what's been going on in the streets these past weeks. People have rallied against asylum shelters in several towns. We've seen many people take to the streets in this matter, and naturally, that was alarming.

Why do you think this is happening in Saxony, a state with only a small percentage of foreigners?

To a certain extent, it's just something people aren't used to, but there are also patterns of attitudes toward strangers. Perhaps politicians have neglected raising the issue in society. In the 1990s, people said: 'Saxons are immune to far-right extremism.' That has proved to be false.

Robert Kusche is director of the Counseling Service for Victims of Hate Crimes (RAA) in Dresden. The RAA provides assistance for victims of right-wing extremist and racist violence, family and friends of victims, and witnesses to the incident.