Germany has absorbed about 1.2 million asylum seekers from 2015 to 2017, according to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, or BAMF. More than half have come from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. (Asylum applications peaked at 745,545 in 2016 and dropped to 222,683 in 2017.) The region that houses Essen has taken about 20 percent of those applicants, the highest of any state, according to BAMF.
Essener Tafel officials said the policy is not xenophobic but rather a response to a food-shortage crisis. The head of Essener Tafel, Jörg Sartor, told reporters that his organization settled on the new policy because a “large number” of local elderly women and single mothers in need had stopped coming in for food. The foreigners, he said, had created an “increasingly aggressive” atmosphere that scared locals.
Sartor also said that some migrants seemed to share a “give-me gene” and could not understand Germany's “queuing culture.” About three-quarters of Essener Tafel's clients are foreigners. These existing clients will continue to receive aid.
“A load of politicians are laying into us now — but they are ill-informed,” he said, according to the BBC. “They ought to reciprocate and help out here — after that they can voice an opinion, by all means.”
Sartor added that he is “sick and tired” of the criticism. “I'm almost ready to quit,” he said.
Essener Tafel's decision has been widely criticized. On Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel chimed in. “One shouldn't run services on the basis of such categorizations. That's not good. But it also shows the amount of pressure there is, and how many people are needy,” she told the German outlet RTL, according to the BBC. “That's why I hope they can find good solutions that do not exclude groups.”
Other critics took a more aggressive approach. Last weekend, vandals sprayed the word “Nazis” on some Essener Tafel vans and on the organization's buildings.
Others have supported the group's decision. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is staunchly anti-immigrant, rose to the defense of the charity, saying in a Facebook post, “If you fight back, you're a Nazi.”
The charity “was not founded to deal with the chaos of Merkel's refugee policy but to meet the demand that was already there,” AfD said.
There are more than 900 food banks in Germany. Many collect surplus food that would otherwise be discarded by supermarkets. No other charitable organization has said it would ban foreigners from receiving aid.