Refugee dream lies shattered by skinheads: Adrian Bridge in Quedlinburg finds those who fled to Germany perplexed by the hatred directed at them

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WHEN Christina Nicola tries to sleep at night, she can still see the flames from the petrol bombs and hear the taunts from her skinhead tormentors - 'Foreigners out] Asylum swine]'

Like thousands of would-be refugees to Germany who have been targeted by right-wing extremists, she can scarcely believe what is happening. And she is terrified. 'What have we done to deserve such hatred?' she asks. 'And why doesn't somebody do something to stop it?'

Along with around 50 asylum-seekers from Romania, the former Yugoslavia, Turkey and Vietnam, Ms Nicola, a Romanian, had little idea of what awaited her when she was told in July that she was going to be given accommodation in a refugee hostel in the picturesque east German town of Quedlinburg.

After a hectic flight from Romania and days of anxious waiting in the region's main reception centre for asylum-seekers in nearby Magdeburg, she thought this was to be the start of the long- awaited new life in Germany. Together with her husband, Constantin, who says that he was persecuted in Romania on account of being a gipsy, she looked forward to improving her already rather good German, and, eventually, to finding work and settling here. Last week, the dream was shattered.

'The first attack was on Monday,' she said, sitting in one of the over-crowded and rather stark rooms provided for the refugees. 'A gang of about 50 skinheads stormed up to the hostel and started hurling firebombs up at the windows. We rushed inside and bolted the door. The children were screaming. We just prayed for peace.'

The next night, the skinheads - bolstered by reinforcements and the cheers of hundreds of on-lookers - struck again. This time they managed to break into the hostel compound before being forced back by an initially reticent police force. On Wednesday, the violence was repeated, but the police, stung by accusations of inactivity, swooped to arrest 71 of the offenders.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the story was the same - only in addition to the asylum-seekers, the right-wing attackers were also hurling stones and abuse at the around 300 local politicians, ecologists and left-wing sympathisers who joined forces to stand on guard outside the besieged hostel.

'It was wonderful to hear some Germans shouting 'Skinheads out]', and at last we felt we had some protection,' said Ms Nicola. 'But we knew they would not be there for ever. The next attack could happen any time.'

In an attempt to defuse the explosive situation in Quedlinburg, the Saxony-Anhalt regional state government ordered the evacuation of the hostel on Monday. The refugees, terrified that they were about to be deported, had barely an hour to gather their belongings. None knew where they were going, how long they would stay, or what sort of reception they could expect.

'If only they would send us to the west,' cried a Yugoslsav woman, struggling to pack her meagre possessions with one hand, while holding a baby with the other. 'The DDR (former East Germany) is scheiss]'

Harmut Perschau, Saxony-Anhalt's Interior Minister, said he had ordered the evacuation to safeguard against further attacks but opponents immediately condemned it as a capitulation to the right-wing mobs.

'Moving the refugees somewhere else is not going to solve anything and will simply convince the extremists that their tactics were right,' said Uwe Barz, the speaker of the Green Party in Quedlinburg and one of the organisers of the guard outside the hostel. 'The events of the past week have made me ashamed to be German.'

Mr Barz's sentiments, however, were not shared by all Quedlinburgers. 'For most of us here, these people were unwanted,' said Sylvia Schicke, one of the many residents in a block of flats immediately opposite the hostel who looked on approvingly as the skinheads attacked the residence last week.

'These foreigners do not know how to behave themselves properly here,' she said. 'For months we have had to put up with their dirt and their noise. I don't suppose they really deserved to have firebombs thrown at them, but they had to be forced out somehow.'

BERLIN - The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, criticised at home for visiting Germany, yesterday condemned a wave of racist violence against foreigners in this country as a reminder of Nazi atrocities, Reuter reports.

Mr Rabin urged the German people and politicians to do all in their power to halt more than three weeks of right-wing attacks on refugees and other foreigners.

'These are red lights signalling that a trend must be stopped early, which threatens to bring back part of the past,' Mr Rabin said, referring to the persecution of Jews and other minorities by Nazi Germany.

Mr Rabin was speaking to a Berlin meeting of the Socialist International after talks in Bonn on Monday with Chancellor Helmut Kohl and other leaders.

(Photograph omitted)