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A brutal murder of a 15-year-old girl in Southern Germany has placed the country's open-door immigration policy under intense scrutiny. In addition, a new government-sponsored study found that violent crime rose in one state by 10 percent in two years, with 92 percent of the increase attributed to young male migrants. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports on the political fallout.
As we reported earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a deal to form a new coalition government. In the last election, she lost seats in Parliament to the right-wing Alternative for Germany party, or AFD.
A big issue was her decision to open the borders to more than a million migrants and refugees in 2015. Now, with AFD, the main opposition party, Merkel is facing demands to step up deportations of young male migrants.
As special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports, that follows a finding that they are largely responsible for an increase of violent crime in Germany.
A brutal murder in Kandel, Southern Germany, has placed the country's open-door immigration policy under intense scrutiny. These marchers demanded protection and security for women and children, after a 15-year-old local girl, Mia Valentin. was stabbed to death by a young Afghan asylum seeker.
Her alleged killer claimed to be 15, but there are suggestions that he was older, exploiting a system which forbids the deportation of minors.
Lawyer Martina Boeswald-
I am mother of three children, and we are here together to protest against the aggressivity of people who are grabbing our children, and who are — who bring fear in our country. We want to live in peace. And this is the fault of Angela Merkel.
The demonstration in Kandel was nominally organized by a women's alliance, but the anti-immigrant AFD, or Alternative for Germany party, was well-represented.
Myriam Kern is a former AFD councillor-
Myriam Kern (through interpreter):
Since Germany has been pursuing the policy of open borders that is illegal, against our constitution, against our law and order, we have massive problems, as we do not know who comes into this country. We are not in control. We have lost control. We do not know what identity, what people are coming here.
This is a place that has traditionally been tolerant. It has welcomed refugees. But what they're saying is that if murder can happen in a small town like Kandel, it can happen anywhere else in Germany.
The marchers chanted that "Merkel must go," along with other slogans decrying Germany's multiculturalism. In Kandel's main square, they were confronted by anti-racism advocates who accused them of purveying Nazi propaganda.
A girl has been killed, and that's all. She isn't killed because she's German and someone is a foreigner. She's just been killed, and you mustn't make demonstration here against foreigners.
Doris Fuchs (through interpreter):
Naturally, one has to do something against crime, yes. But, here, it is not about the crime anymore. Here, it is about simply vilifying people that come here seeking help. They want to get rid of them.
But a new government-sponsored crime study has generated more gloom for supporters of Germany's liberal migration policy. It was conducted in Lower Saxony, the country's fourth largest state, where violent crime rose by 10 percent between 2014 and '16.
The impact can be seen at Hanover's main station, where large squads of police are on duty. Rising crime has been added to the burden of anti-terrorist duties. According to the study's author, Christian Pfeiffer, 92 percent of the violent crime increase is attributed to young male migrants, especially those from North Africa.
Christian Pfeiffer (through interpreter):
The social opportunities of refugees from war to be able to stay in Germany are very good. They were told, no wrong movements, no crimes, and you have a good chance of being able to remain.
But the North Africans arrive here and discover that they all have to go home again and are not wanted here. So they become frustrated and react aggressively.
But Pfeiffer adds the proviso that a foreigner has a 44 percent chance of being reported for a sex offense, whereas, for a German, the figure drops to 18 percent.
The visibility of violent crime of refugees is way higher than the visibility of German offenders, which has contributed to the storm about this survey.
Despite fears about crime, political analyst Raphael Bossong believes most Germans support immigration.
There is still a very substantial majority of people who haven't become terrified. However, yes, the political pressure with the right-wing populists is growing, and they use social media, very, very sophisticated, to take isolated incidents and really push them.
A case in point is the town of Cottbus, near the Polish border, where there was a protest this weekend against what's perceived as rising knife crime by Syrian refugees.
The town has stopped accepting any more migrants because of growing anxiety. But there was also a large pro-refugee rally, among the protesters, Mohamad Al Khodor.
Mohamad Al Khodor (through interpreter):
We are sorry that two of our countrymen created problems with knives. Of course that is not good. We are here because we want all Germans to know that not all foreigners are the same.
Back in Hanover, Kurdish protesters label Turkey's President Erdogan a terrorist after he launched military raids into the Kurdish region of Northern Syria.
The importation of Middle Eastern conflicts into Germany is another strain on police resources, as they try to prevent citizens with rival ethnicities from harming each other.
Rainer Wendt heads the union representing Germany's police officers. He fears that levels of migrant-related crime are only going to get worse.
Rainer Wendt (through interpreter):
We hope that this is enough pressure within the ruling parties to come to a change of politics, which means protect the borders better than they have, and prevent illegal migration into the country, and, indeed, start a national offensive to deport more people who simply have no right to be here.
And, there, the delinquents need to be the first ones that are sent home.
The changing climate in Germany dismays Syrian refugee Bashar Hassoun, who runs a Berlin cafe that aims to act as a bridge between peoples.
Bashar Hassoun (through interpreter):
I am ashamed if I hear something on the news when a refugee has abused, or done something bad, somewhere in Germany or Europe. So, honestly, I don't want to hear the news anymore, no matter what happens.
The refugees have done this and that and that. I have been hunting for an apartment for three years, but I get no response because I come from Syria. The people are afraid of me, and I have done nothing bad.
Voter dissatisfaction over immigration is the main reason why Angela Merkel's authority was punctured by the right-wing Alternative for Germany. More than four months after the election, Merkel has finally agreed to a coalition with the Social Democrats, who are liberal on immigration.
Duzen Tekkal advised Merkel on migration during coalition talks. Tekkal is a Yazidi, the Iraqi minority subjected to genocide by the so-called Islamic State.
Duzen Tekkal (through interpreter):
Violence is very much a taboo subject to talk about, especially when related to migration. But we have to be open and honest about it, and we need to talk about the connection that naturally exists.
At the Berlin State Assembly, the Alternative for Germany relishes being the country's main opposition. Latest polls suggest it's gaining popularity, at Merkel's expense.
Regional leader Georg Pazderski says crime is a contributory factor.
She does very poorly with this whole problem, and what I really think is that she's not listening to the people. I think you can only cure the crime rate if you are closing the borders, yes, just to find out who is in Germany, and then also to be very strict as far as crimes are concerned.
Germany may have a new coalition, but as the demonstrations in Kandel and Cottbus clearly illustrated, the country is deeply divided.
For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Malcolm Brabant in Germany.
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Malcolm Brabant is a special correspondent for the PBS NewsHour.
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