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A Neighbor's Hate Shakes a Refugee Family

This is the corner where Noora, a teenager from a Kurdish refugee family, was beat up by a known extremist in her neighborhood. Her family apartment is two stories above the flower shop.
Khue Pham, for NPR
This is the corner where Noora, a teenager from a Kurdish refugee family, was beat up by a known extremist in her neighborhood. Her family apartment is two stories above the flower shop.

Germany's far right political party, the National Democratic Party (NPD), says even the most avid promoters of tolerance in Germany are intolerant of NPD views.

Right wingers complain in anonymous Web chat rooms that German laws banning certain Nazi phrases and symbols stifle their freedom of speech. Some NPD opponents acknowledge an element of truth to those complaints but few would call members of the NPD victims.

That's in part because of murky ties between the NPD and violent right wing groups or individuals who seem to make a sport of beating up foreigners.

The Hate Incident

Take Noora, a sixteen-year-old girl whose Kurdish family sought asylum from Iraq 10 years ago. She lives with her parents and four siblings in a worn, Communist-era apartment building in Beierfeld, a small town close to Germany's eastern border. The family did not give its last name because they were afraid of publicizing their situation.

Noora has dark hair, bright eyes, and an air of determined confidence. Her mother is more worn. Sitting next to each other on an overstuffed couch, Noora starts the story.

In August, Noora and her mother were beaten up by a neighbor. As Noora tells it, she and a friend, an immigrant from Kosovo, were playing outside just below Noora's apartment. A few young men yelled insults at them and an older woman told the boys to go make the girls shut up.

A male neighbor, who Noora knows and has had trouble with before, started kicking her. Her mother heard her calling for help and ran outside.

"I saw a tall young man and my daughter's head going 'boom, boom, boom' on the ground," Noora's mother Aisha says. "I was screaming. I wanted to get him away from my child. He said, 'Don't touch me. I'll kill you.'"

Aisha says she heard another woman tell the young man to leave the girls alone. Then "suddenly, very fast, I couldn't see," she says. The young man had landed his fist, armed with a ring, right in her eye.

Living in Fear

Noora says it was the worst, but not the first time she's been harassed by her neighbor.

"They've been doing it as long as we've been here, doing it for a long time," she says, emphasizing the word long. "I know him. He lives here."

Social workers who track right extremist incidents say this situation is not unusual. The young man is known to police as a troublemaker, but Noora and Aisha aren't confident that the police are on their side.

Much more attention goes to high profile incidents, like when a drunken mob beat up eight men from India in a small eastern Germany town recently. Experts on the far right say alcohol is a crucial ingredient in those situations.

Noora and her siblings have learned to rarely go outside without their parents, certainly not alone. They cannot move from Beierfeld without permission from the immigration authorities. Noora says she hears nasty comments about foreigners frequently at school, but she just lets the insults roll off her back.

"I don't care," she says, "but I don't think it's all right."

Her mother hadn't expected this when her family fled Iraq.

"We thought in Europe [that] things would be more humane," Aisha says. "We haven't found this in Germany."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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