Is German opinion on refugees shifting?

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By Euronews
Is German opinion on refugees shifting?

The Bild newspaper reported on Monday, citing an internal government memo, that as many as 1.5 million people could seek asylum in Germany by the end of the year.

Previous German government estimates ranged from 800,000 to one million.

Just one month ago, Germany put out the welcome mat for Syrian refugees. But that initial support could be on the wane.

An opinion poll carried out by the public broadcaster ARD and released on Friday said that 51 percent of Germans were scared by the number of refugees coming to their country.

euronews correspondent Sándor Zsiros met locals in Koblenz, who said they worry just how the country will manage to cope with so many people coming in.

“Well, if it continues like that, with more than 1000 refugees arriving every day to Germany – that would indeed be a problem,” one pensioner told euronews.

“When i hear those figures, what is still to happen on the national level, i start asking myself questions. And many people who I talk to say they are a bit scared,” said Gisella Hartel, who runs a local kindergarten.

But Detlef Könitz, a b businessman in Koblenz, has spent 1.5 million euros of his own money to set up a refugee centre there.

“We thought that these people urgently needed help and that we have to contribute to organising a decent shelter for them in Germany, and specifically here in Koblenz.”

Euronews correspondent Sandor Zsiros interviewed the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Nils Muižnieks, in Strasbourg.

Sandor Zsiros, Euronews: Commissioner, what are the main findings of your report regarding the refugee situation in Germany?

Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights , Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights: Germany is doing a really remarkable job in receiving huge numbers of refugees and asylum seekers. The main points I made was that they need to invest more so that they can process more quickly their applications; They need to invest more personnel, not only processing but also at the reception centers to provide access to language training as soon as possible. In addition they have to think in the long therm. Because German society is becoming more diverse. There is a small backlash, a small violent minority despite the overall welcoming atmosphere. And they have to invest strategically to promote tolerance and living together in the future.

Sandor Zsiros:, Euronews: We have now several hundred of thousands of migrants in Germany. Do you think that the general mood is changing towards them?

Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights: I think that the political atmosphere seems to be changing. There are certain political parties which are criticizing the Chancellor and the government. And this of course might send a green light to those in society who want to criticize it. But the overwhelming number of people are very welcoming. I saw many many signs of solidarity, volunteers working, donating their time, donating their clothes, donating food, medicine. It was really heartening to see. And my key message to the Germans was: “Don’t lower your standards, keep your standards high, lead by example.” But also take a lead in reforming the broader European migration and asylum system.

Sandor Zsiros: Euronews: Do you think this migration pressure will trigger a hate crime wave in Germany?

Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights: Yes, we have seen an increase in hate crimes, the number of attacks, arson attacks on asylum centers has more than doubled since the previous year. So its clearly the bad guys are mobilizing, the people are acting on their hate. One heartening initiative I heard from the government was that they have taken a very strong stance against hate speech, particularly on the internet, and (they’ve) engaged Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and other internet platforms to more quickly take down racist materials.

Euronews: When we see Germany and the rest of Europe, especially Central and Eastern Europe, how big is the difference? And how should the EU act?

Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights:

The problem is that Europe is acting in an uncoordinated, fragmented way. Some countries are doing relatively well, some countries are pretty welcoming, another countries are not welcoming at all. The problem is that this issue is a European issue. It can not be addressed effectively at the national level. And I am waiting for a European response and it has not yet taken place. I hope the Germans will take the lead and push for a European policy on this issue.

Euronews: What can be the role of France in this?

Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights , Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights: I think France as well, we know that France together with Germany if they decide to make something a priority than things will change.