Read the newspapers and you would think Germany is united in opposition towards its migrant population. In the first six months of this year there has been a sharp rise in the number of crimes against asylum-seekers or refugee homes with some 202 incidents reported – more than during the whole of 2014, including eight cases of arson. Robert Kusche, who runs a counselling service for victims of hate crime in the eastern city of Dresden, said many attacks do not show up in official statistics because refugees do not believe it is worth reporting minor incidents such as spitting or shoving in the street. Mr Kusche said groups such as Pegida had tapped into a lingering fear of foreigners among some parts of German society. “We need a strong sign that this won’t be tolerated,” said Mr Kusche. “Far-right extremists are exploiting concerns among parts of the population and this is leading to violence,” said Mr Funke. “The danger is that this will take the shape of terrorism.”
But many volunteers are doing its best to make them feel welcome. There has been an outpouring of sympathy and support for people seen as desperate victims of poverty or violence. In recent months, Germans have flocked to join welcome committees for them. Students, retirees and even one conservative politician have taken refugees into their homes. When hundreds of asylum-seekers were camping outside Berlin’s reception centre for refugees last week in searing August temperatures, locals used social media to organise deliveries of water, ice cream and toys for children.
The majority of Germans have been openly supportive of refugees. In Buch, a down-at-heel suburb of Berlin, one Eritrean asylum-seeker said the only time he had witnessed any hostility was when a far-right protest occurred outside his refugee shelter. “But there were many more people protesting for the refugees,” said the 32-year-old.
Hajo Funke, a professor of political science at Berlin’s Free University, said the attitude of most Germans toward foreigners has changed profoundly from what it was a couple of decades ago, when immigrants were considered temporary residents only.
“There has been an immense change in society. Germany has become a more open, liberal country,” said Mr Funke. “Polls show about two-thirds of the population say they are prepared to invest time or money to help refugees.”