The right extremist party NPD in Germany published an electronic map of the location of refugee shelters in Berlin. This prompted discontent among refugees and locals, leading Google to block the map. What is the story behind this?
When Hayam Al-Bahri heard about the map published by the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) in Germany about the places where refugee shelters were located in the German capital, she was very distressed.
"I am a refugee and a worker in the shelters, I am afraid, because it is further evidence that the hatred of refugees is increasing among some individuals," she told InfoMigrants.
The German Nationalist Party published a map of the refugee shelters in Berlin on its website and wrote under it: "On this map ... you can ask about the unwelcome guests who are in the neighborhood and who is responsible for the infiltration of foreigners to our home (...) as well as how to file a local complaint."
Sign that announces the developnment of a refugee reception center in Berlin
"Creating an atmosphere of fear"
In addition to the locations of the shelters, the map published by the NPD includes the numbers of residents in these shelters, as well as the telephone numbers of the workers in the field of refugee assistance and the e-mail addresses of officials. Also on the map are places where German volunteers meet with refugees to help them integrate as well as the exact times of such initiatives.
Although the NPD emphasized that its purpose is only to provide information to the people, Hayam al-Bahri believes the party has other goals. "It's not their job to tell people about the location of the shelters. Internet research can show you the information available on that," she says. "We have heard of dozens of attacks or arson on refugee centers, so I am afraid because I do not know what they are planning."
The year 2017 saw 1713 crimes against refugees, including 264 attacks on shelters, 52 of them in Berlin, as revealed by the Amadeu Antonio foundation and the Pro Asyl organization.
Although the number of attacks against refugees in Germany declined last year compared with the previous two years, Amadeu Antonio and Pro Asyl Foundation revealed, the two organizations called for more transparency and crackdown on the perpetrators.
Pro Asyl, the refugee rights advocacy organization, warned that the extreme right-wing party's publication of a map of the shelter locations indicated a strategy farther away. Pro Asyl's director of legal affairs, Bernd Mesovic, said it was not about media, but about creating an atmosphere of fear: "This map increases the risk of attack on refugee shelters and people," he said in an interview with German newspaper Welt.
The publication of this map has also raised resentment in the political sphere. Berlin's Commissioner for Integration, Andreas Germershausen, considered a targeted incitement. He told Die Welt that he heard about the map in late January. "After knowing what the map contained, I asked the Berlin State Protection Office to take over the case." Germershausen said that the Berlin Office for refugees informed Google about the incident. The party had used Google Maps for the map.
Google deletes the map
Google then scrapped the map. "The deletion of the map came because of a violation of our policy," the company said in response to a question from Die Welt's website.
Pro Asyl says that the goal of the National Party to publish the map is to spread fear among people.
Hayam al-Bahri, a refugee aid worker, believes that the best way to protect relief workers from these attacks is to not publish detailed information on the locations of the companies they work in. "Some companies responsible for refugee shelters publish detailed information about officials and workers. The thing that eases my concerns about the subject matter of the map is that our company, which supervises three refugee shelters, does not publish the details of its employees on the Internet and maintain their privacy," she said.
"Now that I'm talking to you, I'm afraid that the children who play in the shelter here will be hurt," Hayam said at the same time.
Hayam al-Bahri stresses that the mood towards refugees in Germany was better when she arrived five years ago. "There was an astonishment, but there was no hatred like the one that exist now," she says. "I hope the situation improves and everyone lives in peace."