We Spoke to Migrants About Recent Neo-Nazi Violence
"It's not cool when people of colour are hunted through the streets and everyone acts like it's normal."
Photos by Jan Karon
This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, a German man was fatally stabbed during a street fight in Chemnitz, a city in Saxony, eastern Germany. Within hours of his death, an arrest warrant had leaked to far-right groups, claiming that the two suspects in the killing were Syrian and Iraqi.
The revelation sparked two days of violent protests, as hundreds of neo-Nazis took part in anti-immigrant demonstrations on the streets of Chemnitz. Six people were injured on Sunday, as protesters were seen randomly attacking anyone they thought looked foreign.
Chemnitz having a problem with far-right extremism and xenophobia is nothing new. The far-right group Pro Chemnitz has three city councillors in office, and in the last Parliamentary elections the nationalist AfD picked up almost a quarter of the votes.
On Monday, the refugee support organisation RAA Sachsen advised migrants in the area to "avoid the city centre from afternoon onwards", in case they encounter "violence-ready neo-Nazis and racists targeting refugees". And yet, on the third day of anti-immigrant protests, thousands of people – mainly migrants and people of colour – staged a counter-protest nearby, chanting "Nazis out!"
I attended the counter-protest and spoke to six refugees about the incident at the weekend, the continued rise of the far-right in Germany and whether they are afraid for their future.
WATCH: Chaos in Chemnitz
Ahmed, 23, Refugee from Syria
VICE: Hey, Ahmed. What was your reaction to the weekend's events?
Ahmed: It was hard to hear that one of my compatriots had done such a thing. It was even harder to see neo-Nazis take over the streets, railing against refugees and wanting to attack them.
How has this personally affected you?
I received an anonymous Facebook message earlier, saying: "Leave today, you fucking refugee son of a bitch."
How do you feel when you get messages like that?
Two years ago, I fled Syria for Germany. Now, I'm studying and doing an apprenticeship. I can't say that all Germans are bad. There are both good and bad elements in this country, but that goes for refugees, too. And even if neo-Nazis go through the streets attacking people, Germany will still be my home.
Richie, 18, From Oederan, a town to the east of Chemnitz
VICE: What are you protesting against today?
Richie: I didn't like what happened here on Sunday in Chemnitz, and what is going on over there on the other side of the street [at the Nazi protest]. It's not cool when people of colour are hunted through the streets and everyone acts like it's normal.
Are you afraid?
Sometimes – after all, far-right extremists are very violent. I'm not the smallest person, but I have younger siblings. And when they go to Chemnitz, I'm worried that one of these small-minded guys might try to physically express their views.
What's your impression of the mood in Saxony?
Sometimes the mood is fine, and other times it's really bad. Right now, you're seeing right-wing T-shirts, slogans and stickers everywhere.
If you could say anything to the right-wing demonstrators, what would it be?
I would tell them that there's a peaceful way to express their opinions. They need to be educated on all the good things that would be lost if they got what they want. This area has lots of foreign doctors, craftsmen and restaurants. And I would tell them to speak to the older generations, so they can be reminded that it's not a good idea to throw around these slogans.
Ziya, 18, Refugee from Afghanistan
VICE: How do you feel about what is happening in Chemnitz?
Ziya: It makes me very sad. There was a terrible killing, followed by people coming to the city centre and using the incident as an excuse to attack refugees for no reason. I was in the city with my sister on Sunday when an elderly man came up to me and warned us to leave or we could be attacked by neo-Nazis. So I grabbed my sister by the arm and ran off.
People are chasing refugees and shouting xenophobic slogans.
Yeah, a man once set his dog on me. I wasn't hurt, and didn't show any fear then. But now I'm afraid that more and more people in our community have decided they don't want refugees anymore. They always say that foreigners have the best jobs, and we get the best housing. Then I always wonder, 'Why didn't you try harder at school? If it's your fault that you're not where you want to be, then that's your problem.'
Do you think many people in this country are neo-Nazis?
Not all Germans are like that. For example, my teachers and classmates are nice, and they've done a lot to help me. But I have to say, lots of Germans are afraid of refugees because people were hurt. It's always bad when people have been attacked, regardless of whether the perpetrators are neo-Nazis or refugees.
How can the problem be solved?
I think that people need to sit around a table and talk to each other. I also think that the people here don't want refugees anymore. But Germany is my new home. I want to study medicine here and become a doctor. I can't go back to Afghanistan.
Ahmad, 24, Refugee from Afhganistan
VICE: Why are you protesting today?
Ahmad: For me, it's important to show that not all refugees are violent. We refugees are like the fingers on a hand – there are big ones, small ones, weird ones and normal ones. You should never generalise.
Has the mood here changed in the three years since you moved to Germany?
Yes, in that time we've increasingly been judged as a collective. Personally, I'm not afraid, but I really should be. You can be out and about when a group of people realise you're a refugee, and suddenly you're no longer safe.
In light of that, how do you see your future?
I have completed an apprenticeship as a pharmacist, and I want to work here. But when I see things like this, it makes me think twice about whether I can stay.
Mohamed, 38, From Cologne
VICE: How did you react to last weekend's incident?
Mohamed: I saw videos of it on Sunday; how people were chasing migrants. I was shocked. I lived in Chemnitz for two years and worked in the theatre. I travelled here from Cologne because I thought it was important.
What's it like to be back here?
It scares me as a citizen to see so many people at the right-wing demonstration.
Do you think the people at the far-right demo can be won back?
I'm strictly against speaking to the far-right. In 2015, I was told that we should open a dialogue with them. No, man, you don't! When I first came to Chemnitz, I saw people in Nazi shirts. How are you going to win them back?