April 17, 2015 / 4:43 PM / 3 years ago

Merkel to tackle refugee surge as tensions in Germany grow

BERLIN (Reuters) - The German government will hold a crisis meeting to address a surge of refugees amid an upturn in attacks against shelters and complaints from local authorities about a lack of funding to house them, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said on Friday.

Protesters take part in an anti-racism demonstration against the anti-immigration movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) in Duesseldorf, January 12, 2015. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

The announcement by Steffen Seibert of a top-level meeting in her office on May 8 with state and government leaders came on the heels of an opinion poll showing 58 percent believe there is a climate of hostility toward foreigners in Germany.

“The meeting will discuss all the pressing issues arising from the influx of refugees,” Seibert said after several state leaders had demanded an increase in federal funding to help the regions cope with the sharp increase.

The number of asylum seekers to Germany more than doubled in the first quarter to 85,394 and states estimate the total for 2015 could be four times as many as the 100,000 refugees who arrived in 2013. Many are fleeing wars and violence in Syria and Afghanistan.

The federal government has generally welcomed refugees, in part to atone for the past and because some post-war leaders survived the Nazi era thanks to asylum elsewhere. But its promise of 1 billion euros in funding in 2015 and 2016 to help the states was made before the numbers more than doubled again.

The surge in refugees to Germany has led to tensions in some regions where there are few, if any, foreigners.

An arson attack by suspected neo-Nazis destroyed an unoccupied refugee shelter in the town of Troeglitz, near Leipzig, on April 4 just after its mayor, an advocate of the shelter, resigned after getting death threats.

In Solingen - infamous for an anti-foreigner fire in 1993 that killed five Turkish women and girls - police said swastikas were painted on the wall of a refugee center on Thursday.

The 16 states in Germany are obligated to take in a certain percentage of refugees based on their population. The rising numbers have meant many towns and cities across the country have hurriedly turned vacant buildings or gymnasiums into shelters.

A national debate on immigration has been fueled by weekly marches by the grassroots anti-Islam group PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) in Dresden.

The government and industry argue that immigrants are badly needed to counter a looming demographic squeeze that experts estimate could slash Germany’s working-age population by over 6 million over the next decade-and-a-half.

Editing by Stephen Brown and Alison Williams

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