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IMMIGRATION

Germany to step up checks as far-right activists target Polish border

Germany's interior minister on Sunday said the country would increase controls on the border with Poland, as police broke up an armed group of far-right activists trying to prevent migrants from entering.

Police conduct checks at the Polish-German border
Police conduct checks of vehicles crossing the border from Poland to Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

Horst Seehofer told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that 800 police had already been deployed on the German-Polish border to help deal with a recent increase in migrants crossing into Germany from Belarus.

“If necessary, I am ready to reinforce this even more,” he added.

Police on Sunday broke up around 50 activists from the radical far-right group “The Third Way” (Der III. Weg), which had called for its members to gather to take action against migrants seeking to cross the border from Poland.

During the operation, police seized pepper spray, a bayonet, a machete and batons.     

A recent surge in people crossing illegally over the EU’s eastern frontier with Belarus has placed major strains on member states.

Poland has proposed building a 350 million euro ($410 million) wall on its border with Belarus to keep migrants out.

Asked whether such border walls were necessary, Seehofer said: “It is legitimate for us to protect the external border in such a way that undetected border crossings are prevented.”

READ ALSO: How Germany is proposing to tighten controls on the Polish border

According to figures from the German interior ministry, around 5,700 people have travelled over the border between Germany and Poland without an entry permit since the start of the year.

On Saturday, a suspected smuggler was taken into custody after 31 illegal migrants from Iraq were found in a van near the Polish border.

Seehofer wrote to his Polish counterpart Mariusz Kaminski last week to propose increasing joint patrols along the border with Poland in response to rising numbers of migrants.

Kaminski responded that Poland would offer its “full support” for such measures.

However, Seehofer also said last week Germany had no plans to close the border with Poland, adding that such a move would also be “legally questionable”.

The EU accuses the Belarusian authorities of flying migrants from the Middle East and Africa to Minsk and then sending them into the bloc on foot in retaliation for sanctions imposed over a crackdown on the opposition.

Earlier this month, officials from countries including Poland, Lithuania and Greece argued for barriers along EU borders to counter efforts to weaponise migration.

Brussels has so far shied away from funding border walls for members states, insisting that the current legal framework only allows it to use EU budget funds for “border management systems”.

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend showed how Sweden’s third party, the far-right Sweden Democrats, has shaped Swedish politics since the last elections four years ago, argues David Crouch

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

In the build-up to the 2018 elections, the world’s media descended on Stockholm, expecting a breakthrough by the Sweden Democrats (SD) who had been polling as high as 25 percent. In the end, SD took third place with around 18 percent of the vote.

Four years later, SD are hovering at around the same level in the polls. However, Swedish politics has been utterly transformed, as the other main parties have moved onto political terrain previously occupied by SD.

This would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. When they first entered parliament, SD were treated as political pariahs, a racist party, held at arm’s length by the other parties who refused to cooperate with them in any way.

Attempts to bring the SD into the mainstream of Swedish politics fell flat. The leader of the centre-right Moderates lost her job after suggesting it was “time to stop demonising” the SD. Her replacement, Ulf Kristersson, said he would neither negotiate nor govern with them. After the elections, two smaller centre-right parties – the Centre and the Liberals – agreed to prop up the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to prevent the SD gaining any influence in parliament.

It was clear, however, that the only chance for the centre-right to govern would be with SD support. After all, in Finland and Norway right-wing populist parties had entered government with the centre right. And in Denmark, the centre-right had governed with populist support. If it worked there, why not in Sweden?

In early 2019, the SD leader Jimmie Åkesson famously had meatballs for lunch with Ebba Busch, the leader of the tiny Christian Democrats, who acted as a bridge-builder. A few months later, Kristersson met the SD leader for the first time in his Stockholm office. By early 2021 the cordon sanitaire dividing the parties had been truly dismantled, and in the autumn the three parties presented a joint budget.

Meanwhile, the Moderates stepped up their rhetoric against immigration and crime. But perhaps the influence has worked both ways? Maybe the far-right have toned down their policies, compromising with the centre so the parties can work together?

On the contrary, Åkesson and other leading SD figures have stoked up the fire and brimstone in their anti-immigrant message. For the SD, the problem is dark-skinned immigrants from Muslim countries whose values conflict with Sweden’s and who should therefore be deported.

The response among the Moderates – and also the governing Social Democrats – has been a deafening silence.

After the Easter riots in six Swedish cities, the Social Democrat government proposed a package of coercive measures to help the police and social services crackdown on criminals.

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend brought this out very clearly. More than that, it showed how the Sweden Democrats have shaped Swedish politics since the country last voted four years ago.

In the debate on Sunday, prime minister Magdalena Andersson talked about being tough on crime and boasted that Sweden now has one of the strictest immigration regimes in Europe.

It was left to the Green Party (polling 4 percent) and the Centre Party (6 percent) to challenge the SD on immigration. They pointed out that the violent minority is tiny, and that tens of thousands of recent immigrants hold down jobs, obey the law and contribute to Swedish society.

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf listed some of the SD’s more extreme proposals, including demolition of high-immigration neighbourhoods, dawn raids on refugees, and collective punishment for crimes committed by a single family member. This was “pure racism”, Lööf said – where were the “red lines”, beyond which the centre-right would turn against the SD?

All the parties agree that segregation along ethnic lines has gone too far in Sweden, that integration efforts have failed and that something must be done. But there is a paucity of bold ideas that could really make a difference.

Immigration will once more be a battleground at the elections in September, with key politicians competing to be the toughest in dealing with unruly “foreigners”. Meanwhile, the underlying problems that have fuelled disaffection among people with immigrant backgrounds are unlikely to be addressed.

A few weeks ago, Swedish journalist Janne Josefsson spoke to Ahmed, one of the stone-throwing youngsters who shocked the country at Easter.

“We are second class citizens. You let us in, but then Sweden doesn’t care about us,” Ahmed told him. “We are trapped here. I have studied, but will never get a good job. At least once a week we are stopped by the police. In the end, you feel hunted, like a quarry. Do you understand?”

It seems that Swedish politicians don’t really want to.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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Listen to a discussion on Sweden and immigration on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

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