Upon opening the high-level Geneva conference at the end of March, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that the world must “address the biggest refugee crisis of our time.” The conference focused on strategies regarding Syrian refugees, including resettlement. According to the UN refugee agency, up to 10 percent of Syria’s 4.8 million refugees require resettlement, with 450,000 spots required by 2018. But several European Union member states have rejected a redistribution system and call for global solidarity. Ban Ki-moon states that the refugees’ struggle is a global responsibility, and Syrians need to be provided “the tools to build up their lives for themselves,” including more legal pathways to opportunities to enter the labor market and receive an education.
Countries in which refugees have been resettled, however, do not always provide the safest living experience. In 2014, 199 crimes against refugees were officially reported in Germany. Reporters from the German journalist collective Correctiv and Der Spiegel magazine recently examined these cases and discovered that only 15 cases had ended with a conviction out of 157 cases they were able to assess. Of the 157 cases, in only 50 cases were police able to name suspects, although 28 of these investigations were closed primarily due to lack of evidence. Statistics for 2015 are likely to be worse given the migrant influx.
Hostility toward migrants continues in Germany, especially from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. A local branch of AfD in Bavaria wants to shut down mosques, according to a leaked draft policy reported by media group Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland. This policy states that mosques not only serve common prayer but also aid the spread of Islamic teaching, “which advocates the removal of [German] legal order.” The AfD thinks that constitutional religious freedom needs to be limited in Germany since the framers of the constitution did not take into account that such a stipulation would “give access to religions that call for the committing of crimes…and have the aim of world domination.” According to the AfD, the Qur’an permits “lies and deceptions,” and Islam has declared world domination in 57 of 190 countries globally.
Islamophobia is not confined to right-wing groups, but is also making its debut in local rail systems. Along the Leipzig-Chemnitz line run by Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn in Saxony, female-only train cars have debuted. According to a spokesperson, these cars have been introduced due to an increased desire for privacy. Although there has been no mention of sexual harassment concerns, German women on social media have been sharing stories of their experiences with harassment on the rails. The climate in Leipzig has also been on alert ever since the sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, where hundreds of women were assaulted by possible Middle Eastern migrants.
However, there is always someone providing a safe haven. German entrepreneurs Claudia Frick and Nici von Alvensleben have founded “Stitch by Stitch,” a startup sewing workshop aimed at helping refugee seamstresses settle in Germany. Apart from sewing skills, the workshop gives refugees the chance to learn German, find a job, and finish their education.
Currently employing only one seamstress, Claudia and Nici hope to employ five by the end of the year, with the hopes that within a few years the seamstresses they help will open their own workshops. Challenges remain for the startup, however, as they have to negotiate with migration officials and maintain a positive environment where the seamstresses will feel safe from the personal trauma they experienced during their flight.
Ms. Hannah Matangos is a Research Intern at AICGS.