In the quarter of a century since, many foreigners arriving in Germany have experienced the warmest of welcomes – but a few have experienced chilling acts of hatred. This series explores how a small minority of ultra-xenophobic Germans has tarnished their nation’s reputation as a haven for the world’s displaced masses. These stories are primarily told through the experiences of immigrants and asylum seekers who survived xenophobic harassment or attacks.
Their stories are the exception to the norm: incidents of violent xenophobia are rare in Germany compared with other countries. Indeed, Germany has welcomed more asylum seekers in recent years than any other European nation – the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Austria, Hungary, and magnitudes more than the far more populous United States. When faced with the largest exodus of people since World War II, none of these nations welcomed refugees as unconditionally as Germany did. It’s precisely because of this reputation that Al Jazeera is taking a hard look at what happens on the occasions when that welcome culture goes awry.
This is the first story in a 7-part series. Read it at Al Jazeera.
Story 2: Ibraimo Alberto, a Mozambican immigrant and child of former slaves, encountered many opportunities in Germany. But he also experienced racism, big and small, in the east and west– including the murder of a friend. Read his story at Al Jazeera.
Story 3: The climate of fear and tension among more recent refugees arriving to Germany reached a climax one afternoon in October 2015 when a 32-year-old German man enticed a four-year-old Bosnian boy named Mohamed away from his family and abducted him. Read the story at Al Jazeera.
Story 4: On a cold night last year, some 70 Germans, mostly men, surrounded a bus of refugees in the small town of Clausnitz and chanted at them to “go home”. On the bus were 15 asylum seekers from Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan. Their hostile reception by protesters who blocked their path made international headlines, reinforcing stereotypes of small-town Germans as racist and blemishing Germany’s so-called “welcome culture.” Neither the refugees nor the demonstrators wanted this. But then, neither had a choice. Read the story at Al Jazeera.
Story 5: On Halloween night, Abu Hamid went into the kitchen to grab some food when he noticed sparks of light outside the window. Sensing danger, he and his roommates rushed out of the kitchen just as a booming explosion shook the house, shattering the windows and sending pieces of glass into one man’s face. Local police had failed to see a connection between a series of right-wing protests against refugee housing shelters. It wasn’t until news outlets as far away as Berlin began pressuring authorities to take action that Germany’s federal prosecutor took up the case. In a dramatic SWAT-style raid, federal and state police arrested five suspects believed to have formed an organised anti-refugee militia. Read the story, Escaping Aleppo only to encounter terrorism in Germany, at Al Jazeera.
Story 6: A lawyer and his family fled death threats in Pakistan, so they flee to Germany for safety. Instead, their building is attacked–firebombed–by right-wing Germans. Khan wondered whether Germany would accept their asylum applications, and allow them to stay. “Tomorrow, I don’t know what will happen,” Khan said. “Maybe Germany will say, ‘Out!'” In fact, it did. Read the full story at Al Jazeera.
Story 7: Each week in Dresden, a group of refugees and Germans gather at a nondescript cafe hidden from view, pushed back from the street. The cafe provides a safe space for them to mingle with the locals to chat, practise their language skills, and sip tea and juice. It’s one of many spaces that have popped up across Germany to welcome refugees, help them with their asylum applications, teach them German, or just for engagement.
But this particular space, known as the “international cafe”, rests in an uncanny location. Dresden, the capital of Saxony, is a stronghold for Germany’s anti-immigrant politics. Each week, thousands of protestors chant that refugees should “go home” and denounce what they see as the Islamisation of Germany. Read the full story at Al Jazeera.
On the run from the armed cattle rustlers of rural Kenya
On a hot morning in May, Wilson Kemei stands with an old Soviet rifle in his hands, ready to protect the hundreds of people taking refuge in a tiny, makeshift camp in Baringo county. They have fled there after gunmen shot and killed their neighbours in January.
Six years ago, Kemei was recruited to the Kenya Police Reserve (KPR), a ragtag militia whose members wear mismatching uniform – a camouflage jacket here, green army trousers there, with toes poking out of rubber sandals. They receive as little as a single day of training before being handed a gun, weapons like the wooden-stock SKS rifle clutched by Kemei.
“It’s not good,” says Kemei, 41, of the malfunctioning weapon. “You have to cock it one bullet at a time.”
The reservists are tasked with carrying out the work that Kenya’s police and armed forces have been unable to do: fighting off armed bandits who are terrorising Baringo county and other parts of central Kenya as they steal livestock and shoot anyone who gets in their way.
Once you’ve read about the problem, check out the solution: Seeds of Green: As drought kills Kenya’s livestock, some herders are fighting hunger by growing their own grass. By Anthony Langat and me for U.S. News & World Report.
Kenya has become a safe haven for scores of refugees fleeing war and famine in neighbouring states. But that sense of sanctuary doesn’t always stand true if you’re young, vulnerable and gay. In secret hideaways and temporary homes, LGBT refugees are being forced yet again to hide their true selves, instead of walking out into the world with pride.
In the aftermath of disaster, Haitians ask what makes a city.
Port-au-Prince was decimated when a magnitude 7 earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010. Buildings crumbled, the parks turned into tent camps for the displaced, rubble blocked the streets. But as the years progressed, from the balconies of Pétionville you could see something new taking shape in the distance, several miles north. Settlements began to appear on a barren landscape, shacks and tents spreading over dusty plains.
No land titles were given, and there was no guarantee of how long people would be allowed to stay. Nonetheless, desperate for space, tens of thousands of Haitians flocked to the area, arriving from the camps that had erupted throughout the capital. Some came from places that were hardly affected by the earthquake at all but who’d been living indebted to landlords, paying hundreds of dollars in rent each year, in a country where most people live on less than $2.50 a day. Establishing a foothold here was a way to become homeowners for the first time, and to finally escape the noise and hustle and violence of the cities they found so suffocating.
Before the earthquake, the only people who visited these remote mountains did so to pray. It offered a quiet reprieve from the city, a place to be alone in nature. They referred to it as Canaan, the biblical promised land where Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, the land of milk and honey. “This Canaan has the same history,” one Nazarene pastor, who was among the first to move there, told me. “This is our honey.”
Honey or not, this emerging city is the earthquake’s most visible legacy: an enormous expanse of winding dirt roads lined with houses, scattered among which are thousands of shops and markets. Into this labyrinth, an army of NGOs, charities, and international agencies have arrived to infuse Canaan with public parks and plazas, drinking water and money for schools—things the Haitian government has neglected to provide. But with these gifts come tension: Suddenly there are resources to compete for, and an incentive to be the one in charge of allocating them.
NGOs aren’t the only force complicating Canaan’s fate. Haiti’s government itself has been playing catch-up, struggling to create a social contract between people and their government. As to which comes first—the rights or responsibilities of citizens, the roads or the taxes—the state and the citizens don’t easily agree. And if that weren’t enough, Canaan’s very existence is being threatened by a man who claims that the land upon which it was built was taken from him illegally—a claim Haiti’s government has every incentive to ignore.
In Canaan, as in any city, people—the rich and the poor, the powerful and weak, the complacent and the desperate—were destined to get in one another’s way.
American evangelicals’ antigay gospel forced him to flee Uganda. Then Christians in California offered him a home. A refugee’s story, in words and pictures.
Read the full story at The Atavist.
German authorities looked the other way as a right-wing terrorist cell went on a seven-year killing spree. Now they won’t look in the mirror.
MUNICH, Germany – One clear November day in 2011, in the town of Eisenach, two bank robbers, cornered by police, set their getaway van on fire and killed themselves inside it, going out in a blaze of fire and gunshots. It made for a sensational breaking news day, and that might have been the end of it, if not for a disturbing DVD that was distributed to several major media outlets in the days that followed.
The DVD contained a short film collage made using footage from the animated series, The Pink Panther. In it, the cartoon cat protagonist joins a group called the National Socialist Underground, or NSU, whose members “serve the fatherland.” He goes on what the narrator calls a “tour of Germany”; slowly, it emerges that this “tour” consists of visiting various murder scenes. Clips of the Pink Panther, playing over his trademark theme music, are spliced together with grisly photos of men, all ethnic minorities, who had been murdered in Germany between 2000 and 2007.
The film was a confession — or rather, a boast — of responsibility for what would come to be known as the NSU murders, the most horrific string of racist killings in Germany’s postwar history.
How did German authorities fail to notice that a group of neo-Nazis was killing ethnic minorities, practically under their noses? The answer — according a growing body of evidence deemed inadmissible to the trial — is that they should have noticed. Or even, that they did — but looked away.
Now, the victim’s families believe their last resort for justice is failing them. Among those standing trial in the Munich courtroom sits not one government employee, not one police officer, not one intelligence agent — not even an informant.
Germany’s struggle to reckon with the state’s role in the NSU killings has new relevance following the arrival of more than 1 million asylum-seekers to Germany since 2015. Their presence has been met with a wave of hundreds of attacks. As German authorities prepare to confront a new groundswell of xenophobic violence, precedent doesn’t bode well. They still haven’t come to terms with the last one.
One month after Al Jazeera published the story of Dorcas Kiteng’e’s struggle for cancer treatment in a nation whose doctors are on strike, the 25-year-old has died due to lack of proper care.
Some 5,000 public sector doctors walked out on December 5 after Kenya’s leaders failed to make good on a 2013 agreement to raise salaries, hire new physicians and improve conditions in public hospitals. The standoff between the health ministry, which lost $53 million last year due to corruption, and the doctors, continues to drag on. Nobody knows how many hundreds or thousands of Kenyans have died as a result of the government’s refusal to pay and the doctors’ refusal to return to work until that happens.
This is the story of one of those victims – the final days in the life of Dorcas Kiteng’e.
Read the article at Al Jazeera.
At Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, workers face few humane options.
From Turkey to Pakistan, from Iran to Ethiopia, refugee workers are being forced to make painful choices regarding the future of more than 21 million refugees, part of a record 65 million displaced persons around the world. They must choose between political and economic refugees, individuals and families, the healthy and the sick, the elderly and unaccompanied children, gay and straight. They try to move those most in need of help to the front of the line for resettlement somewhere safe.
But when it comes to triaging the world’s humanitarian crises, there are few humane choices.
Read the full feature article in the February 27, 2017 edition of The Nation magazine or online.
Kijabe, Kenya – At the bottom of a winding, tree-lined road, a crowd of patients spills out of the entrance of a private hospital waiting room on to a patio and a dirt parking lot. It begins to rain, and a man on crutches tries to hobble into the cramped building for cover.
Sitting in a wheelchair outside the door is Dorcas Kiteng’e, a 25-year-old woman suffering from cancerous growths in her ovaries.
“They’re pressing down on the spine, they’re paralysing her,” says Mwende Mutambuki, Kiteng’e’s sister-in-law. “She can’t walk. Back pain, leg pain – I’m hoping it hasn’t spread.”
Kijabe is the third hospital they’ve visited since they arrived in the Kenyan capital Nairobi last week, looking for an oncologist who could perform the surgery, only to be turned away.
“They sent us to Agha Khan,” says Mutambuki, referring to the private Nairobi hospital that’s regarded as one of the nation’s finest. “But we know we were not going to be able to afford that.”
She fears time is running out to save her sister-in-law: “It’s a matter of life or death.”
Two months ago Kenya’s public sector doctors walked out on strike, and millions of Kenyans who normally depend on them are beginning to overwhelm the nation’s private hospitals, particularly in rural areas.
In 1992, the U.N. formally recognized Kakuma as a refugee camp — a temporary shelter. A quarter-century later, Kakuma hosts more than 150,000 refugees — victims of all manner of East African calamities, from Ugandan homophobia to political unrest in Burundi. Presently, it is filling up once again with people fleeing civil war in South Sudan.
Long before the Syrian civil war, before millions of people began fleeing to camps in Turkey, Jordan, and elsewhere in search of safety, Kakuma was something of an icon in the global refugee crisis. Today, it stands as a solemn reminder of the permanence of humanity’s displaced masses.