Frayed Tempers

Refugee Violence Flares in Berlin

Police arrest refugees pic 2 Berlin Tempelhof Airport Source Paul Zinken dpa
Berlin police question arrested refugees who took part in the violence, which erupted at an emergency shelter at Berlin's former Tempelhof Airport.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany’s massive inflow of refugees poses a threat to the country’s finances and public safety.

  • Facts


    • Up to a million refugees are expected to apply for asylum in Germany this year.
    • The German chancellor has refused calls to set an upper limit on the amount of refugees coming to Germany.
    • Emergency shelters, from abandoned offices to factories to camp sites, have been erected across the country to offer shelter to the immigrants.
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The massive inflow of refugees into Germany spilled over into violence over the weekend in Berlin, as refugees fought among themselves at three facilities in the German capital in apparent disputes over food and services.

The largest brawl — involving more than 100 refugees according to police reports — took place Sunday afternoon at former Tempelhof Airport, the site of the famed Cold War Berlin air lift. Police said the brawl erupted after some refugees cut into a long line for food.

Two security people and one refugee were injured in the scuffle, Berlin police said. Immigrants used chair legs as sticks to beat each another. About 120 police officers were called in to put down the violence and 23 were arrested.

Tempelhof Airport, a former Nazi-era building south of Berlin’s city center, is home to over 1,000 refugees, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, who are living in the temporary facility. Berlin turned the huge building, which is often used to put on trade fairs, into a shelter last month to house refugees in Europe’s largest economy.

“The escalation is a problem I have warned of for some time: With the increasing number of mass lodgings also come increased tensions”

Frank Henkel, Berlin senator

Germany is expected to take in up to 1 million asylum seekers this year from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other war-torn countries. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has welcomed the refugees, but is under pressure from her political allies and opponents.

Incidents involving refugees tend to play into the hands of Ms. Merkel’s political opponents. Some members of her own cabinet have been lobbying openly for her to reverse her open door policy toward refugees. Meanwhile, support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party has risen above 10 percent.

The flood of asylum seekers is costing Germany billions of euros to offer housing, food and language training, and has sparked a national debate over how to integrate hundreds of thousands of people who don’t speak German.

“These breaches of the law are intolerable and unacceptable,” Frank Henkel, a member of Berlin’s city-state senate government, said of the weekend incidents. “There are rules in our country. For those who do not abide by them, we have other accommodations – with locked doors and windows.”

Separately in the German capital, eight people were injured, including one security person, Berlin police officials said, in two other incidents.


Police running refugees pic 3 Berlin Tempelhof Airport Source Paul Zinken dpa
Around 120 police officers were called in to return order at Berlin’s emergency refugee shelter in the former Tempholf Airport. Source: Paul Zinken / DPA


In a former factory of British American Tobacco, where 1,000 refugees are living, dozens of refugees fought with each other Saturday evening, smashing windows and turning fire extinguishers on each another.

Seven people were injured and 80 police officers were needed to restore calm.

In another incident, two men hit each other with belts. One of the refugees who was injured also threatened a security officer who had tried to intervene.

“The escalation is a problem I have warned of for some time: With the increasing number of mass lodgings also come increased tensions,” Mr. Henkel, the Berlin representative said. “We must not allow someone to die here in the end, as has already happened in some other states. Behind this conflict potential is a threat to social peace in our city.”

Berlin has taken in about 40,000 refugees so far this year, but is running out of public buildings to house all of the new arrivals. Some districts in Berlin have begun resisting the city government’s request to make more public buildings available for the arrivals.


This story first appeared in Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel. Kai Portmann, Jörn Hasselmann and Sandra Dassler from Tagesspiegel and Gilbert Kreijger, an editor with Handelsblatt Global Edition, also contributed to this article. To contact the authors:

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