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In Germany, countering the growing influence of anti-immigrant policies

For the past five years, the European Union has been strengthening its defenses against asylum-seekers who have flooded into the region fleeing war and poverty. But in some parts of Germany, there is a push against the growing influence of right-wing politics that have impacted policies on migrants. Special Correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Scores of German cities are urging the Berlin government to take in more refugees and asylum seekers who are currently stranded in Italy and Greece.

    The proposal has generated controversy in Germany, whose chancellor, Angela Merkel, threw open its borders in 2015, when Europe's so-called refugee crisis began.

    Critics say that Merkel was responsible for encouraging millions more to head towards the European Union and provoking a right-wing backlash.

    Five years ago, special correspondent Malcolm Brabant began reporting on this historic movement of people.

    He reports now from the former East Germany to assess this latest initiative.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    For the past five years, the European Union has been strengthening its defenses against asylum seekers.

    But not everyone is unwelcoming, especially here in the former East German city of Potsdam.

    Kathrin Matejat believes she has a civic duty to boost integration. She runs coffee sessions where sympathetic Germans help migrants with language and other problems. They're working, one person at a time, to counter the growing influence of the right wing and its anti-immigrant stance.

  • Kathrin Matejat (through translator):

    I think it's human nature to hold others responsible for your problems.

    If people who are right-wing or not, or, for example, your neighbor who is not an extremist who feels cheated because they can't get kindergarten place or who has a hard time finding a place to live, then it's easy to blame others for that.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    Massiolah Molassadah is 19 years old and from Afghanistan. He came to Germany via Greece, and managed to reach Western Europe just before the Greek border with Macedonia was irrevocably sealed in December 2015.

    Since then, there has been stalemate, and many refugees have been stuck in Greece, unable to progress.

  • Massiolah Molassadah (through translator):

    I see Germany as my second home. I am free do whatever I please. There is no one telling me, you can't do this, you can't do that. That makes me happy.

    I think, if I can work or I can study, then I think I have a future here.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    Molassadah was a beneficiary of Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to throw open Germany's borders five years ago, when fleets of overcrowded rafts began landing on Greek island beaches.

  • Beatrix Von Storch:

    The overall impact is a disaster when it comes to crimes, when it comes to money. It's something we can't afford.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    Beatrix von Storch is the deputy leader of the right-wing Alternative for Germany Party. Its anti-immigrant stance has lured conservative voters away from Angela Merkel, who will step down as chancellor next year, after four terms.

  • Beatrix Von Storch:

    I think historians will regard her as the chancellor who has taken the worst decision ever after the World War, which has changed the face and the country for decades.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    But, at Potsdam City Hall, they approve of Angela Merkel's grand gesture.

    Mayor Mike Schubert's passion was fueled by a visit to the notorious Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, before it burned down earlier this autumn, and he agreed to take in a number of unaccompanied minors from Moria.

  • Mike Schubert¬†(through translator):

    Anyone who has seen the conditions here knows that we can't keep waiting any longer. And it's my expectation that we will find solutions, because we have been talking for long enough.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    Germany's interior minister, Horst Seehofer, is resisting calls from cities like Potsdam to accept more migrants. Germany has taken in 1.7 million refugees since 2015.

    And Seehofer says, there's no way that Germany is going to throw open its borders, as it did five years ago, when Europe's migrant crisis began. He says to do so would be to aggravate Germany's European Union partners.

    But Schubert and his growing band of so-called safe haven cities are determined to press ahead.

  • Mike Schubert¬†(through translator):

    We should distribute people among communities with the capacity for integration. We can tackle this problem together through voluntary commitment by the safe haven cities.

    Then the question will no longer be, how does this compare to five years ago? It'll be, what are we doing here today and now?

  • Beatrix Von Storch:

    It's not up to single regions within Germany to decide who or who not can enter the country. This is a federal issue.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    But the weakness of Schubert's position over the safe havens initiative was reinforced as he staged a public Web call with a German rescue boat in the Mediterranean.

    Among those watching were a number of Nigerians whose asylum claims have been rejected. Moussa Khalifah lives in a temporary hostel, and he's afraid that immigration authorities will soon swoop to implement a deportation order.

  • Moussa Khalifah:

    I ran out of persecution. Now, if I go back, it's even worse than before. Now you say I should leave the country.

    I have been in Libya for four years, passed through the Mediterranean Sea, passed through the desert. A lot of people died in the desert. A lot of people died in the Mediterranean Sea. But, today, I'm alive.

    But I'm being threatened by the police that I have to go back to my country, where I came from. That means I don't have the right to live.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    Nigeria is facing a violent insurgency by Islamist extremists, and clashes with police are common.

    Nigeria is not on Germany's list of safe countries, so there's a chance that rejected asylum seekers won't be deported, but that doesn't calm the fears of Umeh Lucky.

  • Umeh Lucky:

    Returning me to Nigeria is like sending me to hell. It's just a direct way to death.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    Fred Momper is keen for integration to succeed and helps migrants to draft C.V.s, so they can improve their job prospects.

    Momper believes immigration is good for Germany.

  • Fred Momper:

    I think they bring a different kind of thinking. We are going one way, and if you have refugees, OK, they open eyes. They have other ideas. They have another culture.

    And they help really to start thinking differently, at the end of the day. The world is changing. And if you don't change, I think you get changed.

  • Malcom Brabant:

    Germany remains Europe's driving force over immigration. It's urging other E.U. states to speed up the asylum process and to take in more refugees.

    But four former communist countries are resisting. They are almost exclusively white and Christian and have no desire to change at all.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant in Potsdam.

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