Racist crimes surge in eastern Germany: data

Policemen keep watch after a rally of German right-wing populist movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident) in the centre of Dresden, eastern Germany on January 25, 2015 (AFP Photo/John MacDougall)

Berlin (AFP) - Racist crimes surged by almost 40 percent in eastern Germany last year, official data showed Tuesday, as the country prepared to host a record number of refugees.

The data, which includes attacks against migrants as well as violence targeted at German citizens of foreign origin, also underlined the divide in attitudes between the east and west of the country despite its reunification 25 years ago.

Although the east -- which includes states from the former GDR as well as Berlin -- is home to just under a fifth of Germany's population, close to half of racially motivated crimes were committed there, according to the interior ministry's written response to a question by a Greens party lawmaker.

In absolute numbers, that was 61 out of a total of 130 registered racist crimes, and a 40-percent jump from a year ago.

The surge in racist violence came in tandem with the steepest rise in asylum applications -- projected to reach up to a record 750,000 this year.

A spate of arson attacks have hit refugee homes or would-be shelters. Red Cross staff setting up a tent city for 800 mostly Syrian refugees also came under attack from far-right thugs in late July in the eastern city of Dresden.

The rise in xenophobia, particularly so in eastern Germany, has also been demonstrated in the popularity of the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement in the city of Dresden which drew up to 25,000 protesters to the streets early this year.

A quarter century on, eastern Germany still lags behind the west economically with relatively high numbers of jobless and many towns and villages depopulated as people seek work in more prosperous regions.