BERLIN, Germany — Germany is a country in the midst of one of the greatest influxes of asylum seekers in modern history and that’s generating debate and protests in the country.
A large group of protesters hit the streets of Berlin Saturday, to March against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open door policy towards migrants and refugees. Organizers used the hastag #merkelmussweg (Merkel must go) to call on demonstrators to march.
READ MORE: Germans balancing attitudes on asylum seekers, terrorism after string of attacks
Some carried flags bearing the Nazi swastika while others held banners proclaiming their anti-refugee sentiments.
But the protesters were allowed to peacefully march through the streets of Berlin, past Merkel’s office, under the watchful eye of a heavy police presence.
There were, however, counter demonstrations. The demonstrators supported Merkel’s open door policy towards asylum seekers, marching in direct opposition to the right wing protesters just blocks away chanting, “Say it Loud say it clear, refugees are welcome here!”
The carried banners with the words #BerlinNaziFrei (Berlin Nazi free) and anti-Nazi flags, along with banners proclaiming “Refugees Welcome!”
These demonstrations too had a heavy police contingent that blocked off streets and lined the march route ahead of their arrival.
More than one million migrants flooded through Germany’s borders last year and, although the flow has slowed in recent months, many continue to come from places like war-torn Syria seeking asylum. It’s a crisis that has affected all of Germany and, despite a general sense of calmness about it, the crisis has sparked debate.
But the recent attacks in Germany have exposed cracks in the messaging of Germany’s pro-migrant party De Linke, which also took party in Saturday’s demonstrations.
Following four attacks in Germany in a seven day period, three of which have been tentatively linked to refugee claimants, De Linke leader Sahra Wagenknecht faced calls for resignation after she issued a statement critical of the open door policy, in the wake of a failed suicide bombing the southern town of Ansbach. The bomber, who was the only one killed in the attempted attack, was identified as a Syrian asylum seeker.
READ MORE: Bavarian officials to hire more police, use tougher background checks after terror attacks
In the statement released July 25, which also appeared in translation on Berlin’s English news site, The Local, Wagenknecht said:
“Wir shaffen es” translates to “we can do it” or “we can cope” and it has become somewhat of a hallmark message of Merkel’s efforts to defend her decision to continue accepting Syrian refugees.
While her own party was critical of the statement, it earned support from an unlikely source — The Alternative For Germany or AfD. The far right party’s leader, Andre Poggenburg tweeted support saying, “Quite right! Guilt has largely missed the German refugee policy. Mrs. Wagenknecht, come to the AfD.”
Saturday’s protests show the issue of refugees and migrants in Germany has become an important one that is helping shape the political landscape of regional elections in 2017. It’s an issue that continues to generate quiet debate that may well be getting more and more vocal.
Melanie de Klerk is an assignment editor at Global National. She is currently living in Berlin as one of the 2016 Arthur F. Burns Journalism Fellows.