German government officials have compelled a small town with just 102 people to take in approximately 750 migrants from Syria and other countries, The New York Times wrote Saturday.
Sumte, a small town at the western fringe of the former East Germany, was informed earlier this month by its municipal government that it had been assigned to accept over a thousand of the asylum seekers that have poured into Germany over the course of 2015. The number was so high that mayor Christian Fabel first thought it was a joke, but after a storm of local protest, the figure was lowered to 750, not out of sympathy but because it was believed a thousand would overwhelm the town’s sewage system.
The municipal government plans to house migrants inside an abandoned office building, but other than that, services for them will be scarce. Sumte has no school, no shops, and extremely limited public transportation options. Residents have expressed fears that the migrants, who are disproportionately young men, will bring a crime wave that will make it unsafe to go outside. Officials have responded by saying it will still be perfectly safe to go out at night, because the town’s streetlights will stay lit.
The Times’ write-up, by reporter Andrew Higgins, suggests the biggest problem for Sumte isn’t crime or other issues that could potentially arrive with the refugees, but rather the possibility that their arrival could make locals question the wisdom of nearly limitless immigration. The migrants, he says, have proved to be political boon for Holger Niemann, a member of the local council described as a neo-Nazi who seeks to preserve Germany’s “genetic heritage.”
Niemann’s anti-immigrant opinions are upsetting town members who say they are simply incompatible with democracy:
Reinhold Schlemmer, a former Communist who served as the mayor here before and immediately after the collapse of East Germany, said people like Mr. Niemann would “have been put in prison right away” during the Communist era.
“Now they can stand up and preach,” he said. “People say this is democracy, but I don’t think it is democracy to let Nazis say what they want.”
Thus far, though, the Times says that “tolerant values” in Sumte have won out: “When Mr. Niemann took the floor at a meeting in October between villagers and regional officials responsible for migrants,” the paper says, “Mr. Hammer snatched away the microphone.”