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Home / Blog / Attacks on Refugees Intensifying Across Europe under Far-Right Influence
November 10, 2015

Attacks on Refugees Intensifying Across Europe under Far-Right Influence

Susan Corke reports from France, where she is researching antisemitism and far-right extremism.

In Europe, the outlook is grim for refugees and other minorities. Xenophobia, racism, and antisemitism are on the rise. As the refugee crisis mounts, so too does violence against marginalized groups.

In Germany, there have been more than twice as many attacks on refugee hostels during the first nine months of this year than in the whole of 2014. Meanwhile popular support for the anti-migrant Pegida movement soars. In Finland, protestors threw fireworks at a bus transporting refugees, while in the Netherlands, masked men attacked a refugee reception center. In Sweden, a string of arson attacks destroyed refugee homes.

My view from the ground: the French response to the refugee crisis is extremely shameful. The National Front’s Marine Le Pen recently visited Calais, where a day center will soon open to provide services to refugees. She declared that the port city has become “no more than a jungle where violence and the survival of the fittest reign.” Just a few weeks prior, riot police forcibly evicted refugees from informal camps and destroyed shelters, using tear gas and a bulldozer.

Calais is now commonly called "The Jungle," a stark example of how the refugee crisis is fueling racism. Refugees come to Calais to try to leave France for the U.K. via the Channel, but the city is hostile to these visitors. Overnight, refugees and police clashed with rocks, with a number of police injured. The police response has been to arrest and disperse migrants to “administrative retention centers” around the country. Many just return to Calais.

France has failed to humanely manage a camp for fewer than 6,000 refugees, while Germany has been receiving hundreds of thousands. Refugees are reportedly trying to avoid France because they see it as unwelcoming. 

As winter approaches, refugees across Europe will congregate in reception centers and other housing facilities. Many fear an increased risk of violent anti-migrant attacks. Attacks are much more likely to happen in areas where far-right extremist groups hold sway. As Human Rights First documents, the ascent of far-right political parties in the European Parliament and national elections has provided a platform for antisemitic, homophobic, and racist rhetoric and policy proposals. And it’s inciting violence.

Not only are extremist groups encouraging anti-migrant hate crimes, their influence continues to corrode respect for democracy, human rights, and protection of minorities—the very principles on which the European Union was founded. The United States has a critical role to play in helping its European partners counter this challenge.

As Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland noted in congressional testimony, the United States has provided $26.6 million to UNHCR for its programs in Europe as well as $1.2 million in grants, humanitarian commodities, and donations of excess property and equipment. But it’s not enough. The U.N. efforts are only 40 percent funded, and food assistance has been cut. Meanwhile, the UNHCR launched a new appeal for $96.15 million in additional support for Greece and the Balkans. This money would go toward “winterization” of existing shelter and reception facilities as well as emergency shelters and supplies to protect refugees from the cold.

Refugees are expected to continue arriving in Europe throughout the winter, defying earlier predictions. UNCHR anticipates that as many as 5,000 new arrivals will reach Greece every day between November 2015 and February 2016. Harsh conditions will inevitably lead to more deaths en route.

Even after they reach the relative safety of European shores, in the absence of coordinated action to address hate crimes, these refugees will remain vulnerable to violence. Children and families, who have already endured unimaginable conditions, are now terrorized within Europe. This re-traumatization will impede their ability to integrate into society and rebuild their lives.

The U.S. government should work with its European allies to prevent and respond to violent attacks on refugees. This collaboration should include bilateral assistance to European governments in hate-crime data collection, police investigations and prosecutions, as well as assistance to NGOs working in this area. This should be just one part of a comprehensive global effort—in partnership with European allies—to advance the protection of refugees. The United States should launch a major initiative to resettle at least 100,000 Syrian refugees next year.

Violent attacks on refugee shelters are one of the most acute symptoms of the deep need for an intensified global response to this crisis. And for American leadership.