Anti-Immigrant Protests Grow as Thousands of Refugees Flood Europe

Some conservative political protesters view the refugees as invaders.

ByABC News
December 21, 2015, 5:12 PM

— -- While the debate over whether to accept Muslim refugees continues in the United States, in Europe, where over a million refugees have already been allowed in, tense anti-immigrant protests are quickly spreading.

Conservative political parties are also on the rise from Sweden to Poland to the Czech Republic, partially fueled by the recent terror attacks in Paris. These political leaders fear not only the numbers of refugees, but the Islamic radicals they believe could be hiding among them.

Germany recently registered its one millionth refugee, but the country’s move to welcome them has ignited a far-right backlash in the form of a street protest group called PEGIDA, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamacization of the West.

“It’s not good for our people, not for our culture, not for our life,” said one protester at a recent rally in Dresden, Germany.

PEGIDA started last year and quickly attracted tens of thousands of people to the weekly Monday night rallies, even after a photo of leader Lutz Bachmann apparently masquerading as Hitler surfaced in the local media. Bachmann insists the image was digitally altered to discredit him. In a rare television interview, Bachmann told Nightline he believes Muslim refugees do not belong in Europe.

“This is the culture we have in Europe -- an old Christian, Jewish culture. We don’t have an Islam culture here,” Bachmann said. “Islam is no religion. It’s an ideology. A fascistic ideology.”

PEGIDA’s demonstrations, which draw an estimated 10,000 people, have often been marked by accusations of violence toward the media and pro-refugee protesters. Mohammod, a Libyan refugee attending a counter-protest, said that PEGIDA makes him frightened for his safety.

Like Mohammad, many refugees feel caught in the cross-hairs of this backlash. There have been over 800 anti-refugee assaults and arson attacks in Germany this year alone.

Ali, a 21-year-old refugee from Syria, fled from Turkey to Germany this fall. He and 11 of his young friends traveled 2,000 miles across Europe in a journey that was documented by "Nightline’s" cameras.

He made it, but three months later, the simple life he imagined having in Germany is decidedly more complex. Ali has been temporarily placed by the government in a remote corner of East Germany while he awaits his residency card. He said he mostly spends his time at a hotel that’s been converted into a center for refugees where he’s trying to learn German.

He said he feels like people do not want him there.

“They will think we are terrorists. That’s why they are scared [of] us,” he said. “They must understand why we are coming here because we are not going to take anything from them. We’re going to study and complete our studies.”

Refugees like him, Ali said, are coming to Europe for a chance at a better life, not to cause trouble.

“The people that are coming from Syria, they are running from the war,” he said. “They want peace. They don’t want any problems, they don’t want to hear any shoot guns. They don’t want to hear any bombs coming on their houses.”

But Germany isn’t the only European country up in arms over the refugees. In Sweden, a party made up of youthful, energetic nationalists who want to stop all immigration is surging in popularity.