BERLIN (Reuters) - Hundreds of refugees fought each other on Sunday in a mass brawl at a Berlin shelter and more than 100 police were called in to restore order, in an episode underlining the challenges Germany faces in handling hundreds of thousands of migrants.
Although violent incidents in such centers are frequent, the chaos in the shelter at Berlin’s disused Tempelhof airport, which erupted as lunch was being served, was worse than normal.
“There were apparently many hundreds of people involved,” a spokesman for the police told Reuters TV. Police made an unspecified number of arrests.
Michael Elias, who is in charge of the shelter, said that 830 people were housed at the facility and that between 20 and 30 started the disruption.
“It’s the simple fact that there are a lot of young men traveling alone here. We withdrew ... because the situation simply exploded. It was a complete blow-out.”
Earlier on Sunday morning, police were called to another shelter in Berlin, where similar violence forced 500 inhabitants to flee the building.
Such scenes feed scepticism among the German public about accepting refugees. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s popularity has slumped, a sign of the public’s cooling attitude toward the influx of people fleeing conflict in countries like Syria.
Earlier this year, Germany’s police union and women’s rights groups accused the authorities of playing down reports of sexual assault and even rape at refugee shelters because they feared a backlash against asylum seekers.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has called on Germans to avoid succumbing to blanket suspicion of migrants, of whom up to a million are expected to arrive this year.
Reporting by Gabi Sajonz-Grimm, writing by John O'Donnell; Editing by Mark Trevelyan