Germany: Coronavirus protests increasing anti-Semitism

Of note:

The Central Council of Jews in Germany has warned of increased anti-Semitism due to the protests against coronavirus measures.

“For months, conspiracy theories with anti-Semitic tendencies have been deliberately stirred up in the coronavirus debate,” Council President Josef Schuster told German daily newspaper Bild.

“If, for example, the Rothschilds are blamed for the pandemic, then this is a synonym for Jews,” said Shuster.

He added that not everyone who protested in Berlin in August was anti-Semitic or racist, “but they walked among them.”

Two recent protests have drawn tens of thousands from across the country to Berlin. The demonstrations were mainly peaceful, but at one point, hundreds of demonstrators broke through a blockade in an attempt to storm the Reichstag building.

Police also see uptick

The police trade union, the GdP, said it has also seen a rise in radicalization of protesters against coronavirus protective measures.

“Since the first demonstrations, right-wing groups have influenced the corona protest movement,” GdP vice-chairman Jörg Radek told newspapers of the Funke Media Group. “The right-wingers are there and are about to completely take over the movement.”

Some protesters have used signs and flags associated with far-right politics, from the Reichskriegsflagge (Imperial War Flag) to costumes comparing themselves to Holocaust victims.

“Nobody can say they are just a follower now. Anyone who stays with the movement must ask themselves whether they want to join forces with right-wing extremists and combine personal concerns in the coronavirus crisis with the extremists’ anti-democratic goals,” said Radek.

Source: Germany: Coronavirus protests increasing anti-Semitism

How Angela Merkel’s great migrant gamble paid off

Good long read:

Five years ago, as more and more refugees crossed into Europe, Germany’s chancellor proclaimed, ‘We’ll manage this.’ Critics said it was her great mistake – but she has been proved right

Mohammad Hallak found the key to unlock the mysteries of his new homeland when he realised you could switch the subtitles on your Netflix account to German. The 21-year-old Syrian from Aleppo jotted down words he didn’t know, increased his vocabulary and quickly became fluent. Last year, he passed his end of high school exams with a grade of 1.5, the top mark in his year group.

Five years to the month after arriving in Germany as an unaccompanied minor, Hallak is now in his third term studying computer science at the Westphalian University of Applied Sciences and harbours an aspiration to become an IT entrepreneur. “Germany was always my goal”, he says, in the mumbled sing-song of the Ruhr valley dialect. “I’ve always had a funny feeling that I belong here.”

Hallak, an exceptionally motivated student with high social aptitude, is not representative of all the 1.7 million people who applied for asylum in Germany between 2015 and 2019, making it the country with the fifth highest population of refugees in the world. Some of those with whom he trekked through Turkey and across the Mediterranean, he says, haven’t picked up more than a few words and “just chill”.

But Hallak is not a complete outlier either. More than 10,000 people who arrived in Germany as refugees since 2015 have mastered the language sufficiently to enrol at a German university. More than half of those who came are in work and pay taxes. Among refugee children and teenagers, more than 80% say they have a strong sense of belonging to their German schools and feel liked by their peers.

Success stories like Hallak’s partially redeem the optimism expressed by Angela Merkel in a sentence she spoke five years ago this week, at the peak of one of the most tumultuous years in recent European history – a sentence that nearly cost her her job and that she herself has partially retreated from.

A Radical German Program Promised a Fresh Start to Yazidi Survivors of ISIS Captivity. But Some Women Are Still Longing for Help

Interesting and somewhat dispiriting, given the mixed results of the program, long read:

When Hanan escaped from Islamic State captivity, there wasn’t much to come back to.

She and her five children had survived a year in a living nightmare. After her husband finally managed to arrange their rescue in the summer of 2015, they joined him in a dusty camp in Iraq where he lived in a tent. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) still controlled the territory they called home, and they were unsure if they could ever go back. And Hanan was unsure if she could ever escape the darkness she felt inside.

So when, in the fall of 2015, Germany offered her the promise of safety and a chance to heal from her trauma, it wasn’t a difficult decision. Accepting a place in a groundbreaking program for women and children survivors of ISIS captivity did mean leaving her husband behind in the camp, but she was told he could join her after two years. So she and her children boarded the first flight of their lives, out of Iraq and away from their tight-knit community, in search of safety and treatment for what still haunted them.

Hanan, now 34, was one of 1,100 women and children brought to Germany in an unprecedented effort to aid those most affected by ISIS’s systematic campaign to kill and enslave the ancient Yazidi religious minority. (TIME is identifying Hanan by her first name only for her safety.) Launched by the German state of Baden Württemberg in October 2014, the program aimed to help survivors of captivity receive much-needed mental-health treatment and support. In Iraq, there had been a rash of suicides among the heavily-traumatized survivors, who had minimal access to mental-health care and faced an uncertain future. In Germany, far from the site of their suffering, state officials hoped the women and children could find healing and a fresh start.

But for Hanan, those promises remain unfulfilled. German officials never granted visas to any of the women’s husbands, leaving families, including Hanan’s, indefinitely torn apart. Like most of the women, she’s not undergoing promised trauma therapy. She often thinks about killing herself. The only thing stopping her, she says, is her children.

Not all the women are desperate. Some are thriving in Germany, and others have become global advocates for their community, like 2018 Nobel Prize winner Nadia Murad. She is the most prominent face of a program that was so ambitious and well-intentioned it inspired other countries, like Canada and France, to follow suit. But Hanan’s experience illustrates how parts of the program failed to live up to their full potential, and shows how difficult it is for refugees to gain access to mental health services, even in a program designed for just that. Michael Blume, the state official who led the program, sees it as a “great success” overall. But he is troubled by the state’s failure to bring the women’s husbands to Germany. “A great humanitarian program should not be sabotaged by bureaucracy,” he says. “But that’s what is taking place.”

Before she left Iraq, Hanan said she was given a piece of paper with information about what awaited her in Germany. “I wish I could find that paper now,” she says, “because the promises they gave us, they didn’t keep all of them.”

By the time ISIS swept across Sinjar, the area in northwest Iraq that is home to most of the world’s Yazidis, Hanan had already endured more than her share of hardship. Her parents were murdered in front of her when she was six. She and her two siblings went to live with their grandfather and his wife, where they were beaten, starved, and forced to work instead of going to school. Her baby sister died soon after.

In her early twenties, she escaped the torturous conditions at home by marrying Hadi. It was the first good fortune of her life, she says; they loved each other. Over the course of about seven years, they had four daughters and then a son, who was just a few months old in August 2014, when ISIS captured Sinjar and unleashed its systematic campaign to wipe out the Yazidis.

In conquered Yazidi towns, fighters executed the men and elderly women. Boys were sent off for indoctrination and forced military training. Women and girls weresold into slavery, traded among fighters like property and repeatedly raped. Hanan and her children were among more than 6,000 people kidnapped. Hadi, who was working as a laborer in a city beyond the reach of ISIS when their village was captured, was frantic when he learned his family was gone.

Within days, President Barack Obama launched U.S. airstrikes on ISIS militants, and U.S. forces delivered food and water to besieged Yazidis trapped on Sinjar mountain. In the following months, as Yazidi women and children started emerging from captivity—some escaped, while others were rescued by a secret network of activists—with tales of horror, Yazidis pleaded for more international action. Former captives were severely traumatized. Mental-health care in Iraq was limited. And because the Yazidi faith doesn’t accept converts or marriage outside the religion, the women raped and forcibly converted to Islam by ISIS members feared they were no longer welcome in the community.

In Germany, home to the largest Yazidi population outside of Iraq, officials in Baden Württemberg decided to act. In October 2014, state premier Winfried Kretschmann decided to issue 1,000 humanitarian visas and earmark €95 million ($107 million) for what became known as the Special Quota Project for Especially Vulnerable Women and Children from Northern Iraq. The state recruited 21 cities and towns across the southwestern state to host the refugees, agreeing to pay municipalities €42,000 ($50,000) per person for housing and other costs, while the state would cover the cost of their healthcare. Two other states agreed to take an additional 100 people.

Program officials interviewed survivors of ISIS captivity in Iraq, selecting those with medical or psychological disorders as a result of their captivity who could benefit from treatment in Germany. The project was not restricted to Yazidis, and a small number of Christians and Muslims also were chosen. That was when the officials told each woman that after two years, immediate family members like husbands could apply for a visa under German rules for family unification.

The program was groundbreaking. No German state had ever administered its own humanitarian admission program. And instead of waiting for asylum-seekers to make dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean, officials were seeking out the most vulnerable and bringing them to safety. The first plane arrived in March 2015. The last of the flights—including the one carrying Hanan—landed in January 2016.

Hanan, along with 111 others, was sent to a pleasant hilltop town of about 25,000 people at the edge of the Black Forest. (Officials asked that the town not be named to protect the survivors, whom they fear could be targeted by ISIS members.) For the first three years, she lived with about half of the group in an old hospital in the town center that had been converted into a communal residence.

Hanan and her five children occupied two rooms off a central corridor—one they used for sleeping, and the other, with a sink along one wall and a worn leather sofa along another, as a living room. They shared a bathroom and a kitchen with a large family next door.

“The neighbors are worse than Daesh,” she joked with a grimace, using a pejorative name for ISIS. It was May 2017, more than a year after her arrival. She sat on the floor to breastfeed her youngest child, Saber. At three, he was small for his age, but Hanan was small too. Her long dark hair was pulled back, and she wore a long blue skirt and a dark hoodie. Her next youngest, Sheelan, climbed into a wardrobe in the corner, peeking out from underneath thick black bangs. Haneya, her oldest at 10, and Hanadi and Berivan, eight and seven, were fighting with the neighbor’s children, their shrieks competing with the Kurdish music videos blaring from the television. Hanan yelled at them to stop.

Caring for her five children alone was wearing Hanan out. She was often sick, but found it difficult to go to the doctor because she didn’t have help with childcare. She complained about painful and unresolved gynecological issues from being repeatedly raped. She wanted to go back to the doctor, but she relied on social workers to make appointments for her and said they were blowing off her requests. And most days, she suffered debilitating headaches.

A trauma therapist came once a week to the shelter for a group session with the women, but Hanan usually wasn’t able to attend because of the children. And she didn’t want to talk about her experiences in front of the other women. When she slept, nightmares came. One night she dreamed she was back in captivity and an ISIS fighter was trying to take her oldest daughter, Haneya. Hanan woke herself and the children up with her screams. The older girls talked about their time in captivity often and sometimes had nightmares too. “They’re not like normal kids,” Hanan said. “When it’s nighttime, they ask me, ‘Mama, do you think Daesh is going to come to get us?’”

A year earlier, around six months after her arrival, that nightmare had become reality. She was out shopping for food when she spotted him. He had trimmed his hair and beard, and exchanged his tunic for a blue T-shirt. But it was him—the ISIS member who had been her captor for a month.

She stared, frozen in place. He saw her, too: His eyes widened in recognition and surprise. Panic shot through her and then her feet were moving, carrying her out of the store and around the corner. By the time she went to the police, he was gone. She said they treated her as if she had mistaken a random refugee for her former tormenter. But she knew what she saw. “How could I forget the face of the man who raped me?”

Germany was supposed to be a sanctuary. Now, inside the old hospital walls was the only place Hanan felt safe. She rarely ventured out, remembering threats from her captors that they would find her if she ran away.

She worried the man she’d spotted might come back to harm them. The only identifying information she could give police was his nom de guerre. And though police were stationed outside the shelter for some time after she made the report, Markus Burger, head of the department for refugees and resettlement in the town’s social office, said his office eventually received a report stating there was no direct threat. The police referred questions about the incident to the federal public prosecutor, and a spokesman for the prosecutor said the office was aware of the incident but could not comment further. At least one other woman in the programsaw her own captor in Germany, and she later returned to Iraq because she no longer felt safe.

Hanan couldn’t understand why the police couldn’t find the man. She began to see threats anywhere she went. Muslim people speaking Arabic terrified her. Once at a park with her children, a bearded man on a bench called out to her. Though she had never seen him before, she was afraid. She gathered the children and rushed back to the shelter.

Yazidis are no strangers to trauma. The religious minority has endured centuries of persecution and attacks, from the Ottoman empire to Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda. Jan Kizilhan, an expert in psychotraumatology and transcultural psychotherapy who was the program’s chief psychologist, was born to a Yazidi family in Turkey and immigrated to Germany as a child. Survivors of ISIS captivity are dealing not only with their own individual trauma from the violence and family separation they endured, he said, but also the historical trauma borne by their people, and the collective trauma from ISIS’s attempted genocide.

But after the women arrived in Germany as part of the program, trauma therapy wasn’t a top priority. At first, most of the refugees were focused on adjusting to life in Germany, said Kizilhan. They were also following the situation back home, where a multinational coalition was wrestling territory away from ISIS. With every victory, Yazidi families waited for news of their missing relatives, hoping they would not be among the bodies discovered in mass graves. Most had family members in camps, and others still in captivity. They weren’t ready to work through past trauma in therapy, because it was still part of their present.

There was another, more basic, obstacle to treatment: Most of the women were unfamiliar with the concept of psychotherapy. “To even help them understand why they would need this or how it would help, it takes time,” said Kizilhan. In many Middle Eastern cultures, including the Yazidi community, psychological trauma is often expressed somatically, he explained — many women complained of a burning liver, headaches, or stomachaches when the root was a psychological, rather than physiological, problem.

In 2017 and 2018, Tübingen University Hospital and the University of Freiburg, which were also involved in psychotherapeutic care for program participants, carried out surveys of 116 of the women in the program. Ninety-three percent of those surveyed fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder during the first survey, and the number remained the same a year later. That makes the fact that just 40% of the women have received trauma therapy, years after their arrival, striking.

But Kizilhan insists the figure does not represent a failure. Some women simply don’t want therapy, he says, and it can’t be forced. He expects that an additional third of the women will be ready for therapy in the coming years. “And then we will be there to help them,” he says. “Each person is individual, different, and needs different timing.” The state decided to cover the cost of the womens’ healthcare indefinitely—initial plans were to foot the bill for three years—after it spent only €60 million ($71 million) of the allocated €95 million ($113 million) on the program.

Kizilhan acknowledges the challenges, including finding enough therapists and translators to work with the women. Kizilhan and Blume, who led the Special Quota project, say the program was an emergency intervention, and that a more long-term solution is building capacity for mental health care in Iraq. The state of Baden Württemberg has put resources toward that, too—donating €1.3 million ($1.5 million) to help establish the first master’s program for psychotherapy in Iraq, started by Kizilhan at the University of Duhok in 2017.

Kizilhan and Blume say the program in Germany has been successful despite the challenges. In the Tübingen University study, 91% of the women surveyed said they were satisfied to be in Germany, and 85% said they were satisfied with the program. When asked if they were satisfied with the psychosocial care, the number who said yes dropped to 72%. Hanan was among those who found it lacking.

Her struggle to access medical care and therapy were two of the ways she felt let down by the program. For her first three years in Germany, Hanan received minimal therapy, even though she wanted it. She rarely attended the group sessions, both because she found them unhelpful and because of the ongoing childcare issues. She said she was not offered individual sessions. Burger said when social workers saw some women were unhappy with group sessions, they arranged for individual therapy, and Hanan began talking with a therapist every few weeks. She said it helped a little, but she felt the same after each session.

***

On a Wednesday in July 2018, Hanan left German class early to shop for food. Before leaving home, she pulled on a fitted black blazer over her beige shirt and leggings. The clothes were new; she had recently cast aside the long, dark skirts and sweaters that she had worn ever since her escape for a more modern wardrobe. Friends had urged her to make the switch, teasing her that she dressed like she was still living under ISIS. Hanan walked to the store, passing traditional timber-frame buildings and window boxes overflowing with geraniums and petunias. She spotted a friend outside the supermarket and stopped to chat before buying chicken legs and vegetables. Managing the family’s budget alone—something she had never done in Iraq—was challenging. Sometimes she didn’t have enough money at the end of the month.

Two years on from encountering her former captor, the town was beginning to feel less threatening, though Hanan still didn’t like going out at night. She attended German language class four mornings a week. She’d never learned how to read or write as a child, so learning German was doubly hard, but she was making slow progress. She was also making a few German friends, and she’d found a way to decipher their text messages even though she couldn’t read. When she received a message, she’d paste it into the Google Translate app and press the audio button. A robotic voice would read it aloud and she’d reply via voice note.

Back at home, she put a pot of rice on the stove and began browning the chicken, preoccupied by the logistics of her upcoming trip to Iraq to visit her husband, Hadi. She’d learned through her social worker that her stipend would be paused while she was away, and Hanan wasn’t sure how she would make it through the month without the money.

It would be the second time she had to travel to see Hadi. (The women were admitted as humanitarian refugees, rather than asylum seekers, which spared them the process of applying for asylum and meant they were allowed to return to visit family in Iraq, unlike asylum holders.) Saber, now four, had spent most of his life separated from his father, and didn’t recognize him. The girls no longer even missed him. He was becoming a faraway memory.

Two and a half years had now gone by since she left Iraq, well past the two years after which Hadi had been promised he could apply for a visa. Hanan’s social worker helped her file papers related to his visa application. But whenever Hanan asked what was happening, she was given the same answer: Not yet.

What she didn’t know was that Germany’s position toward refugees had shifted. The welcoming stance the country adopted when more than a million people poured into the country seeking asylum in 2015 had hardened amid a backlashfueled by far-right anti-immigration parties. When he interviewed the women in 2015, and told them their husbands could apply for a visa after two years, Kizilhan was in line with the rules at the time. But now laws governing refugees and family unification visas were tightened. German courts even began ruling against Yazidiswho requested asylum, saying it was safe for them to go back to Iraq.

To date, no husbands of women in the Special Quota Project have received visas. It’s hard to know how many are waiting: Kizilhan says he has identified 18. According to the study, 28 percent of the women surveyed had husbands in Iraq.

A spokesman for the Baden Württemberg Ministry of Interior, Digitalization and Migration said that “special rules” apply to family reunifications for those granted humanitarian admission, and may only be allowed “for reasons of human rights, on humanitarian grounds or to protect political interests.” The special rules “must be considered on a case by case basis,” he said, and added the federal authorities are responsible for issuing visas, not the state.

Kizilhan said the ministry could intervene to make sure the family members are issued visas. But the political will behind the creation of the Special Quota Project has evaporated. In January, Kizilhan said he had recently met with state interior ministry officials to ask that they find a way to bring the husbands to Germany, but that they told him the change in federal law made it difficult to do so. “This is ridiculous,” Kizilhan says. “If you can take 1,100 with the special quota, you can take 18 people in one day.”

On trips back to Iraq, Kizilhan said he’s been confronted by husbands demanding answers, and is distressed that the state has not followed through. He notes that bringing the women’s immediate family to Germany would improve their psychological health—the goal of the program—by helping to reduce post-traumatic stress symptoms and easing their integration into society. Hanan often spoke of waiting for Hadi’s arrival to move into an apartment on her own. She was fearful of handling all the responsibilities of living in a new country without him. And she desperately needed help caring for the children, help she thought would be provided in the program. They’d spent a year separated from Hadi in captivity. Now, they were once again separated, once again waiting for their family to be reunited.

After Hanan’s visit to Iraq, months went by with no news about Hadi’s visa. They both began to despair that it would ever materialize, their frustration compounded by a dearth of information about the delay.

In the spring of 2019, after waiting three years, Hadi decided he could wait no longer. He borrowed money and set out for Germany along irregular migration routes. It took him eight months—he was detained in Greece on the way—but eventually he made it to Hanan. Their reunion, though, was far from perfect. After his arrival in Germany, the once-happy couple separated. Hanan would not discuss the details of their estrangement except to say that it took root because of their physical separation and left her distraught. He is now in a relationship with another woman and Hanan said he is not in touch with his children. His future in Germany is uncertain, too—it is unclear whether he will be permitted to stay.

Last summer Hanan moved into a light-filled two-bedroom furnished flat rented for her by the municipality in a quiet residential neighborhood. It’s decorated brightly in orange—a peach wall, tangerine dining chairs, an ochre shag carpet, and a sofa the color of carrots. While there’s a bunk bed in the kids’ room, they usually end up sleeping in Hanan’s king-size bed every night, a tangle of arms and legs. She was finally able to see a doctor to resolve her lingering gynecological health problem, although the daily headaches are still there. She’s no longer afraid of going out at night.

On a Sunday morning in January, she awoke late, groggy from hosting friends the night before. Saber, now six, and Sheelan, seven, plopped on the sofa to watch Tom and Jerry on the television as Hanan made bread in the kitchen. Squeezing small lumps off the dough, she quickly slapped each one from hand to hand, stretching it into a thin disc. In Iraq, she would have baked the loaves in an outdoor clay oven. Here, she used a small metal box oven, heated with an electric coil, placed on the countertop. She placed each loaf on top to let it brown, then baked it inside the oven before stacking the finished loaves on the windowsill.

When she was done, the children gathered at the table, scooping up fried eggs, yogurt, tahini, and cheese with the fresh bread. They chattered together in German; they rarely spoke Kurdish with one another anymore. Saber, impish and sensitive, speaks German with a near flawless accent. After breakfast, the three older girls clear the table, wash the dishes, and sweep the floor unbidden. Hanadi, now 11, and Berivan, now 10, both with round cheeks like their mother, are learning how to swim at school. Haneya, now 13, reads and translates the mail and types messages in German for her mother.

“Sometimes I look at my kids and think ‘OK, I’m all right.’ But I just feel bad,” Hanan said, lowering herself onto the sofa. “It’s a bad feeling inside of me, I don’t know how to explain it. Sometimes I want to hit myself, because of this bad feeling inside, and I don’t know how to deal with it. Many times I thought about killing myself, but then I remember my kids, that they need me.”

The situation with Hadi has her so upset she doesn’t think about ISIS anymore, Hanan said, adding that she doesn’t know what to do or where to turn. She’s spent hours crying with a Yazidi friend, another survivor, who lives nearby. That’s the closest she gets to therapy now.

After Hanan moved into the apartment, her therapy sessions ended. A few months later, social workers took her to an appointment at a new therapist’s office, but she hadn’t gone back. She said the appointment time of 7 p.m. was impossible as there was no one to watch the children at home. But she knows she needs help. “It’s too much for me,” she said. “I can’t hold all these problems alone.”

Burger, of the town’s department for refugees and resettlement, said that as more of the women moved into private apartments last year—all but 10 now live on their own—it became harder to arrange therapy sessions. Some therapists have waiting lists, and there is always the problem of timing, he said. “It’s difficult finding a time when the trauma therapist and the translator both are available, and also when someone can take care for the children, and when the German classes aren’t at the same time. But we are working on it.” He could not give a number for how many of the women in the town were undergoing therapy, saying it was constantly changing, but said therapy was available to all who wanted it. “We can only offer it,” he said. “In the end it is the decision of the women if they want to take part in the programs, and we don’t want to and can’t force anyone to take part.”

Hanan knows it was right to come to Germany. She’s better off than she would be in Iraq, where despite the territorial defeat of ISIS, most Yazidis are still displaced, and their future is uncertain. She feels safe now in Germany, and she can see bright futures for her children here.

But she can’t muster any of that hope for herself, not after losing Hadi. The darkness she had hoped to escape never went away. “Maybe I’m going to go crazy, or I’m going to kill myself. Maybe I won’t find a solution for myself except to die,” she said. “Now I’m 34, and I didn’t see any hope in my entire life. And for the future also, I don’t have any hope. Only God knows.”

Source: A Radical German Program Promised a Fresh Start to Yazidi Survivors of ISIS Captivity. But Some Women Are Still Longing for Help

Saunders: How was a neo-Nazi threat ignored for years? Because it looked so familiar

Worrisome:

For Berlin actor Idil Nuna Baydar, the past year has been a sequence of escalating shocks, at first private and horrific, which in recent weeks have been shared with millions of other Germans.

The first shock came last year, when she received a series of detailed death threats via private contact information known only to family members. The first was signed “SS Ostubaf,” a Nazi-era paramilitary rank. Other threats were signed “NSU 2.0,” a reference to the National Socialist Underground, a far-right terrorist cell that murdered at least 10 people across Germany between 2000 and 2011.

The threats became more specific, containing information (such as the name of Ms. Baydar’s mother) that was not known to the public. Dozens of other Germans, including lawyers and politicians, received threats from the same source, typically saying they would be killed because of their ethnicity or support for immigration. Ms. Baydar filed a police complaint; the investigation was dropped, without charges, at the end of 2019.

The second shock came when she learned this year that the threats had come from within the police. Her personal information had been obtained from an unauthorized query made on a computer database within a police station in Hesse, the western German state that includes Frankfurt. A newspaper later confirmed that the queries had been made by police officials.

Newspapers, and then public investigators, gradually found out that the “NSU 2.0” group is linked to a national chat network in which members exchanged messages of racial intolerance, extreme-right and neo-Nazi allegiance and sometimes threats of violence. Members of the group allegedly include active German police and military officials.

Some members of the group are allegedly also members of other known extremist groups, including one calling itself the Ku Klux Klan, the outlawed neo-Nazi group Combat 18, and a “prepper” group known as Northern Cross, which believes that there will soon be a complete societal breakdown, perhaps triggered by the group’s actions, and plans to implement something resembling the Third Reich in its aftermath.

Police and government officials until recently played down the incidents and organizational affiliations, claiming that no known far-right networks existed within the police and military.

Over the spring, this argument began to fall apart as investigations revealed just how extensive, and deeply infiltrated into German state institutions, these networks are. On June 14, the Hesse chief of police, Udo Munch, resigned over this.

The final shock for Ms. Baydar came during the past few weeks, when she, along with the rest of Germany, learned that these extremist networks were not just exchanging bigoted memes and making idle threats.

On July 1, German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced she would disband one of the companies of Germany’s most elite special-forces unit, the KSK, and forbid the entire unit from participating in any military operations, because it had become so infested with active neo-Nazis.

The military counterintelligence service revealed that at least 600 soldiers are being investigated for extreme-right activities, and that the chat network that united extremist groups had been set up within the KSK.

It emerged that 62 kilograms of explosives and 48,000 rounds of ammunition had disappeared from the KSK, allegedly taken by extreme-right groups. Other military officers were found to be storing huge caches of weapons and ammunition along with Hitler memorabilia.

The “prepper” group Northern Cross, previously seen as extreme but nutty, was said to have amassed tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, built fortresses and training camps, and had drawn up lists of “enemies” to be executed on “Day X,” or the day of Germany’s societal breakdown; last week it emerged that they had purchased body bags and quicklime for this task.

Germans are now asking the question that has long alarmed Ms. Baydar and other targets: How, in a country where even the slightest hint of Nazi-era racial politics is highly illegal and unconstitutional, were they permitted to thrive for so long, when they did very little to conceal themselves?

It seems that it’s because their language and messages had become so commonplace and mainstream. The notion that people of other ethnic or religious groups are “invaders,” once an unmistakable signal of illegal extremism because it was the animating idea behind Hitler’s rise, is now uttered by members of a legal political party, the AfD, and is heard in mainstream right-wing media.

It has international sanction, too: The man chosen by Donald Trump to be the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Douglas Macgregor, has described religious-minority Europeans as “invaders” in language similar to that heard on the chat network.

It’s a situation Germany has seen before: a violent cancer went unnoticed within the state because its messages had become so numbingly familiar. What we need to be on guard for, in every country, is not just the threat of intolerance, but also the sense of numbness and indifference that allows it to thrive.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-how-was-a-neo-nazi-threat-ignored-for-years-because-it-looked-so/

ICYMI: Berlin Passes Sweeping Anti-Discrimination Law

Of note:

Berlin has become the first German state to pass its own anti-discrimination law. The law bars public authorities — including police — from discriminating against anyone based on background, skin color, gender, religion, disabilities, worldview, age, class, education and sexual identity.

The legislation passed Thursday has been in the works for weeks, but it has taken on a new meaning in the wake of protests against systemic racism that have erupted in the U.S. and spread to cities around the world, including Berlin.

Under the new law, victims are entitled to damages and compensation, and public authorities have an opportunity to dispute claims of discrimination. Previously, the onus for anti-discrimination suits in Berlin was on the victims to prove they had been discriminated against before a lawsuit could go forward. Now if discrimination is considered “predominantly likely,” the relevant public authority must then either accept or refute the accusation against it.

Berlin’s governing coalition believes that Germany’s General Act on Equal Treatment, a federal anti-discrimination law passed in 2006, does not go far enough in protecting civil rights, and that this new state law will enhance legal protections for a wide range of groups.

“This is an important step in the fight against discrimination and racism,” regional politician Werner Graf told news organization Euractiv. “For the first time, it is possible to take action against discrimination on the part of state actors and to punish this in a simplified way.”

Before it was passed, Berlin’s measure was criticized by leaders of Germany’s police unions who argued that it puts undue pressure on police officers, placing them under suspicion. Berlin politician Dirk Behrendt of the Green Party told German public broadcaster RBB that the new law aims to address systemic racism rather than hamper the day-to-day work of the police.

“It’s about, for example, the practice of racial profiling where the police don’t look and observe how someone is behaving regardless of their skin color or their gender,” Behrendt told RBB. “For them, the new law doesn’t change anything.”

Source: Berlin Passes Sweeping Anti-Discrimination Law

ICYMI: Germany sees rise in anti-Semitic, political crimes

Of note:

Germany saw a rise both far-right and far-left crimes in 2019, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced at a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday.

The country’s police recorded just over 41,000 cases of politically motivated crime last year, representing a rise of 14.2% compared to 2018, when there were just over 36,000.

More than half of all cases could be attributed to the far-right scene, the statistics show, with 22,342 cases, representing a 9.4% increase. The politically motivated crimes recorded ranged from verbal abuse, spreading racist propaganda, hate speech, to assault, arson, and murder. There has also been a 23% rise in far-left crime, focused particularly in the eastern city of Leipzig.

At the press conference, Seehofer was at pains to allay concerns that police or authorities were losing sight of far-right violence.

“The biggest threat comes from the far-right, we have to see that clearly,” Seehofer said,

Authorities also recorded 2,032 crimes motivated by anti-Semitism – a rise of 13% over 2018, and the highest since those statistics were collected. Some 93.4% of those crimes were carried out by far-right perpetrators. Seehofer said there was a similar figure – 90.1% – for Islamophobic crimes, which have also risen by 4% to 950 cases.

More propaganda, more murders

Next week marks the first anniversary of the murder of conservative politician Walter Lübcke, head of government in Kassel, central Germany. Far-right extremist Stephan E. initially confessed to the murder, though he withdrew the confession earlier this year and replaced it with a partial confession implicating an accomplice.

Far-right killings continued in February this year, when nine people of immigrant background were murdered by an extremist in two cafes in the central German city of Hanau.

The figures show that 36.8% of far-right crimes involve “propaganda offenses,” 13.7% involve “racist hate speech,” 4.9% property damage, and 4.4% violence against people.

Georg Maier, interior minister of Thuringia, who joined the press conference as the current chairman of the state interior ministers’ conference, was particularly forthright on the far-right threat.

“What we experienced in 2019 and 2020 represents a new dimension of threat against our democracy,” Maier said. “This danger is coming from the right. Three murders in 2019, and in 2020 already 10 murders with a racist and far-right extremist background. It had been a long time since we had the murder of a political representative in Germany, and that makes very clear how big the challenge for us is.”

Last week, Seehofer attended the first meeting of a newly established Cabinet committee, chaired by Chancellor Angela Merkel, to fight right-wing extremism and racism. “It was a very, very good and deep discussion,” Seehofer said. A cabinet report on new measures is planned for next spring.

The far-right and anti-lockdown protests

Maier, a Social Democrat who said his own campaign posters had been defaced with swastikas, said he had noticed an increase in “far-right structures,” both in the form of concerts, martial arts clubs, and online groups.

He said that organizers were using concerts to raise money for political campaigns and mentioned that far-right had even opened bars to create another revenue stream.

He went on connect such developments to a more polarized political atmosphere, and suggested that recent demonstrations against social distancing measures had been deliberately “undermined” by the far-right scene.

The data was released as police in Germany on Wednesday raided 25 premises linked to 31 suspected members of anti-government Reich Citizens Movement — a movement that overlaps with far-right extremist groups.

The group was suspected of making fake documents, including passports, driver’s licenses and birth certificates. The raids took place in the states of Hesse and Baden-Württemberg.

A faction of the group was officially banned by Seehofer in March for its anti-Semitic and right-wing sympathies.

Source: Germany sees rise in anti-Semitic, political crimes

Prosecuting IS returnees in Germany requires the law’s longest arm

Interesting account of some of the challenges involved:

Taha A.-J.*, an Iraqi man believed to have belonged to the “Islamic State” (IS), has been standing trial in Frankfurt since late April on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. At the center of his trial is the death of a 5-year-old girl belonging to the Yazidi minority group.

The charges are based on statements by his wife, Jennifer W.*, a staunch IS supporter who lived with him in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. In 2018, she told a police informant that during her first stay in IS territory in 2015 she saw Taha A.-J. punish the girl, purchased as a slave, for wetting the bed. Jennifer W. alleged that he had chained the girl to a window in the scorching sun, where she died an agonizing death.

Jennifer W. has been on trial herself since April 2019, as she did nothing to save the girl. In that case, the girl’s mother — also a slave in the same household — testified that she was forced to watch her daughter die.

Unprecedented case

Taha A.-J. was arrested in Greece in May 2019 under a German arrest warrant and was transferred to Germany in October. His ongoing trial — the first against a former IS militant to deal with the IS genocide of the Yazidi — has attracted international attention.

Genocide is the most serious crime under international criminal law. But according to Alexander Schwarz, a Leipzig-based lawyer who specializes in international law, “the difficulty lies in proving that the individual perpetrators were actually determined to destroy an entire ethnic group.”

Schwarz told DW that Taha A.-J.’s trial is unprecedented. “For the first time, the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office is pursuing a purely international offense,” he said, pointing out that the alleged act was not committed in Germany, that neither perpetrators nor victims are German citizens, and that the accused wasn’t even on German territory at the time of his arrest.

International criminal law is becoming an increasingly important part of the work done by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office. When the trial of the 35-year-old IS returnee Omaima A.* began in Hamburg on May 4, charges against her also included crimes against humanity. Omaima A., the widow of IS jihadi Denis Cuspert, who was killed in Syria in 2018, is also said to have kept a 13-year-old Yazidi girl as a slave.

After Omaima A. returned from the Syrian war zone in 2016, she lived a peaceful life in her hometown of Hamburg for three years. It wasn’t until investigative journalist Jenan Moussa, reporting for Arab television network Al-Aan TV, uncovered the necessary evidence against her that charges could be filed.

With thousands of photos and videos found on the phone Omaima A. used while living in Syria, Moussa was able to retrace her life in IS territory in great detail, eventually producing a documentary about the German IS supporter.

Not just housewives and mothers?

The photos shown in the documentary — introduced as evidence at Omaima A.’s trial — show her alone and with children, posing with an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons. Moussa’s work also uncovered chat conversations with several men. These documents show that the perception of female IS supporters as passive, easily influenced victims needs to be reconsidered, said Schwarz, the lawyer from Leipzig. “Numerous returnees — female IS fighters — were armed, with automatic weapons, AK-47 rifles or pistols,” he said.

Many women also worked for the so-called morality police, controlling how other women dressed, behaved and lived under IS rule. According to Schwarz, the practice of keeping slaves was “an act that can be attributed to the female fighters, and was even predominantly practiced by them.”

In order to issue an arrest warrant and charges, Germany’s top judges have said that evidence of explicit support for IS, or proof that a person directly fought for the militant group, is necessary. Without this proof, suspects could go unpunished. It’s exactly for this reason that many IS returnees have repeatedly claimed they were only responsible for taking care of the household and the children, and that they had no knowledge of reported atrocities.

Slave ownership has featured in other cases against IS returnees, including that of Sarah O.*. Details of her trial, which has been ongoing since October, have been kept from the public, as she was said to have been a minor when she allegedly committed the crimes she’s been charged with. According to investigators, the now 21-year-old decided to move to IS territory in Syria at the age of 15.

In addition to slave ownership, Sarah O. has also been accused of having lived with her husband and children in apartments assigned to them by IS forces. That may sound harmless. Legally, however, this is considered a form of looting: if IS assigned jihadis to live in an apartment,  that meant the previous residents must have been expelled or killed. This is defined as looting, or pillaging — and is thus a violation of article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Targeting female jihadis

This interpretation of the law was first used in the trial against Sabine S.* in 2019. She was sentenced to five years in prison for war crimes, mainly for taking possession of two apartments. Since last year, Germany’s federal prosecutors have accused IS returnees of eight violations of the Rome Statute, with the looting charge particularly being used to prosecute female jihadis.

Lawyer Serkan Alkan, however, has been critical of the court’s reliance on this charge. Alkan has represented several IS supporters in German courts, and told DW that women had no say under IS rule. “The idea that you could stand there, as a woman, and say, ‘No, I will not take this house because it’s a violation of international criminal law’ — that’s a rather utopian perspective,” he said.

But federal prosecutors have been successful with this approach. Sibel H.*, from Aschaffenburg near Frankfurt, twice made the journey to IS territory, the first time in 2013. She returned to Germany the following year after her husband was killed, only to remarry an IS supporter and head back to the Middle East, where they had two children before she was captured. In spring 2018, she was transferred from a Kurdish prison in northern Iraq to Germany, where she was eventually arrested and charged with the looting offense under international criminal law. On April 29, 2020, she was sentenced to three years in prison in Munich, where she is taking part in a reintegration program.

In the past five years, 122 IS supporters have returned to Germany from Syria or Iraq, according to government figures reported in late 2019. Of those returnees, 53 have been classified as a “potential threat,” and 18 are considered “relevant persons,” that is supporters or even leading figures within IS. Relying on international criminal law, Germany aims to make these people responsible for their actions.

*Editor’s note: DW follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and urges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.

Source: Prosecuting IS returnees in Germany requires the law’s longest arm

Germany: No let-up in anti-Jewish crimes

Official police-reported statistics:

Germany’s annual report on politically motivated crimes will detail more than 41,000 crimes last year attributed to far-right and far-left individuals, with anti-Semitic acts amounting to 2,000 offenses, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported on Sunday.

Citing data to be published next week by the Federal Criminal Police Office, the paper said experts blamed the upward trend of politically motivated crime on an increasing belief by perpetrators that the behavior is socially acceptable..

The 41,000 cases overall represented a 14% increase on the level in 2018, with 22,000 crimes classed as extreme right and 10,000 crimes as extreme left — often so-called “propaganda” acts such as smearing graffiti, with some far more serious.

These categories had grown by 9 and 24% respectively, Welt am Sonntag reported.

Particularly alarming were politically motivated crimes in Germany’s eastern states of Thuringia and Brandenburg, where such cases had jumped by 40 and 52% respectively.

The data “unfortunately” shows a “massive problem” at both ends of the spectrum, said Thorsten Frei, deputy parliamentary leader of Chancellor Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).

Politicians, journalists targeted

“Hate” tirades on the Internet were often aired “unrestrained” against communal politicians or journalists, said Frei, and some even included murder threats.

“Where ever the concept of “the enemy” [Feinbild] became entrenched in minds this sometimes quickly led to [threats] being acted out, said Frei while calling for the “swamp” of contemptuous language to be stamped out.

“People’s reticence to resort to violence has fallen,” Jörg Radek, deputy GdP police trade union leader told the paper. “People become violent more quickly because they are increasingly confident that their acts are socially accepted, said Radek.

“All violence from the right and left must be outlawed,” he said, “whether it’s directed at a camera crew, emergency workers, or the crew of a police patrol car.”

Hate-motivated sprees

In recent decades, Germany has witnessed a string of far-right racist crimes, including fatal shooting sprees in Halle in October and in Hanau in February.

Seehofer subsequently declared far-right extremism the “biggest security threat facing Germany,” promising a beefed-up security response.

Source: Germany: No let-up in anti-Jewish crimes

Germany plans stricter citizenship rules

Situations of false identity are a form of citizenship fraud and/or misrepresentation and thus in Canada and many countries, are grounds for revocation (children raise more complex issues given separation and other issues):

In an apparent bid to deter asylum-seekers from providing false information about their identities, the German government plans on making it harder for foreign nationals to attain citizenship, Die Weltnewspaper reported on Friday.

A draft law drawn up by the Interior Ministry targets immigrants who have been living in Germany under a false name or provided authorities with incorrect information about their country of origin when they arrived.

Currently, foreigners are generally eligible for German citizenship if they’ve lived in the country for eight years or more.

Under the new law, the years that an immigrant lived under a false identity would no longer count towards the total years required to attain citizenship.

Changes for residence permits

The draft law would also create a second significant hurdle to citizenship by changing the rules on residence permits.

Under the new measures, immigrants found living under a false identity would be denied an unlimited or permanent residence permit. The law would make “the clarification of identity and nationality” a prerequisite for attaining permanent resident status.

Immigrants could still attain a time-limited residency permit, but the permanent resident status is required for German citizenship.

Withholding citizenship from children

The German government’s plans also have a direct impact on children of foreign nationals — even if they were born in Germany.

Until now, babies born in Germany to two non-German parents can typically become citizens if one of their parents has been living in the country for eight years.

Under the new rules, children would only be granted German citizenship if their parents prove their identity and nationality.

The Interior Ministry’s draft law is currently being reviewed by the other ministries and must gain their approval before moving on to parliament.

Source: Germany plans stricter citizenship rules

German, French Officials Accuse U.S. Of Diverting Supplies

Failure on humanitarian, ethical and institutional levels.

The best comment, with respect to the US, came from Ontario Premier Doug Ford: “We’re the two largest trading partners anywhere in the world. It’s like one of your family members (says), ‘OK you go starve and we’ll go feast on the rest of the meal.’ I’m just so disappointed right now. We have a great relationship with the U.S. and they pull these shenanigans? Unacceptable.”

As the coronavirus rattles the globe, governments and aid organizations everywhere find themselves in a race to acquire scarce medical supplies and protective equipment — but some say the United States isn’t playing fair.

Earlier this week, officials in both Germany and France accused the U.S. of diverting medical supplies meant for their respective countries by outbidding the original buyers.

As of Saturday, there were more than 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide and more than 60,000 deaths from the virus, according to a tally by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has the most cases globally, with Germany and France at the fourth and fifth-highest case count, respectively.

On Friday, officials in Berlin alleged that the U.S. intercepted a shipment of medical equipment in Thailand from American medical supply company 3M and diverted it to the U.S., the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel reported. Berlin’s interior minister called the alleged interception “modern piracy.”

That same day, French officials accused the U.S. of redirecting a shipment of medical masks from Shanghai originally intended for a hard-hit French region to the U.S. by offering a much higher price for the supplies, The Guardian reported.

The accusations come as demand in the U.S. for facemasks surges, particularly after a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that all Americans should wear cloth face coverings in public.

The U.S. has flatly denied allegations of diverting supplies from other countries. But President Trump has also tried to force American companies into prioritizing U.S. orders by invoking the Defense Production Act. On Thursday, the president used the DPA to order 3M to stop exporting hospital-grade N95 masks to Canada and Latin America, according to the company.

“We hit 3M hard today after seeing what they were doing with their Masks. ‘P Act’ all the way,” the president said in a tweet Thursday night.

On Friday morning, 3M warned of “significant humanitarian implications” of ending shipments to Canada and Latin America, saying the company is “a critical supplier of respirators.” 3M also said other countries would likely retaliate, reducing the overall number of respirators in the U.S.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed warnings against halting American medical exports to Canada on Friday.

“It would be a mistake to create blockages or reduce the amount of back-and-forth trade of essential goods and services including medical goods,” the Canadian leader said.

3M CEO Mike Roman also pushed back on the president’s threats to the company. “The idea that 3M is not doing all it can to fight price gouging and unauthorized retailing is absurd,” Roman said in a CNBC interview. “The narrative that we are not doing everything we can to maximize deliveries of respirators in our home country — nothing could be further from the truth.”

With no collective global effort to distribute supplies to countries that need them most, little stands in the way of global feuding and price-gouging. The Trump administration has come under criticism for the same issue in domestic markets.

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that states with governors who are allies to the president, including Florida’s Ron DeSantis, have had little trouble getting requests filled with supplies from the national stockpile. Meanwhile, some Democratic governors have struggled to get federal help.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have repeatedly complained that trying to get federal supplies is like the “wild west”: states must compete against one another as well as other countries, with essential supplies going to the highest bidder.

Trump blamed New York’s shortage of ventilators on the state itself for not having more respirators before the pandemic broke out.

“They should’ve had more ventilators. They were totally under-serviced,” the president said Friday. “We have a lot of states that have to be taken care of, some much more than others.”

New York state has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the country, with more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19 as of Saturday. The next closest state is New Jersey with just under 30,000 cases.

Source: German, French Officials Accuse U.S. Of Diverting Supplies