In the early 1990s, several brutal attacks are carried out on asylum-seekers’ shelters throughout Germany. The rioting in Hoyerswerda and Rostock-Lichtenhagen marks the high point of racist violence in reunited Germany.
In September 1991, a group of neo-Nazis, alongside several hundred local residents, besieged over two days an apartment block inhabited by predominantly Vietnamese contract workers as well as an asylum-seekers’ shelter in the town of Hoyerswerda. Shouting racist slogans, they bombarded both buildings with stones and molotov cocktails before the inhabitants were finally evacuated by the police. About a year later, this scene repeated itself in Rostock-Lichtenhagen, where initially the central processing point for asylum-seekers, inhabited mostly by Roma families, was similarly besieged and bombarded with stones, before a neighboring apartment block housing Vietnamese contract workers was set ablaze. On this occasion, it was not 500, but as many as 3,000 local residents who took part in the rioting, often actively, alongside the right-wing extremist instigators.
Remarkable in both cases was not only the willingness of such a large segment of the German-majority local population to support and openly express approval of these attacks, but also the passivity of the police. On both occasions, they arrived late to the scene, undermanned and apparently without strategy, in places retreating fully from any confrontation.
These incidents occurred at a time when a heated political and societal debate was underway in Germany on the issues of immigration and asylum, in which asylum-seekers were openly labelled a problem and danger. This coincided with intensified feelings of national unity following the reunification of East and West Germany. At the same time, the numbers of unemployed in the recently integrated territories of the former East were rapidly growing, leading there, particularly among the youth, to discontent and a sense of hopelessness. Acts of racially motivated violence, perpetrated mostly by youths and young adults, increased dramatically in the early 1990s: a mere two months after Rostock-Lichtenhagen, arson attacks were carried out in Mölln [see: Arson attacks in Mölln and Solingen, 1992-1993] and, a year later, in Solingen.