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Thousands Gather in Germany for the Anniversary of the Anti-migrant Pegida Movement

The movement has experienced a slight revival in recent weeks, as Germany continues to face the challenges posed by a huge influx of refugees.
Una manifestación de Pegida el 23 de marzo de 2015. (Imagen vía Flickr)

Some 15,000 people gathered in Dresden Monday to mark the one-year anniversary of Germany's anti-immigration Pegida movement.

The movement has experienced somewhat of a revival in recent weeks, as Germany continues to face the challenges posed by a record influx of refugees.

Meanwhile, German chancellor Angela Merkel is facing criticism from within her own party, amid rising public concern over the government's immigration policies.

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Lawmakers in Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) are reportedly considering a raft of measures to stem the flow of migrants — including building a border fence. According the Berlin-based tabloid Bild, Germany is facing an influx of up to 1.5 million new asylum seekers this year — almost double the previously estimated 800,000 new arrivals.

Related: German Anti-Migrant March Draws Thousands

Pegida — an acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West — started in 2014 as a weekly demonstration against the German government's immigration policies and the feared "Islamization" of Germany and Europe. More than 25,000 people took to the streets of Dresden in the days following the Charlie Hebdo shootings, in Paris.

Monday's one-year anniversary rally drew significantly more protesters than last week's demonstration, which was attended by an estimated 9,000 protesters.

Ausschreitungen am Rande von — Martin Heller (@Ma_Heller)October 19, 2015

Thousands of others also rallied Monday in Dresden in counter-protest, with several media reporting equal numbers of Pegida supporters and counter-protesters.

Speaking at the rally, the group's co-founder, Lutz Bachmann, called Merkel a "dictator." He was later joined on stage by writer Akif Pirinçci, who is known in Germany for his far-right pamphlets. Addressing the crowd, Pirinçci insulted migrants and politicians alike, and bemoaned the fact that, "concentration camps are sadly currently out of action."

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Many in the crowd booed Pirinçci's comments, and Bachmann asked him to leave the stage.

Some 1,900 police officers were deployed at the event, which resulted in three arrests. According to the local police, one man was attacked by a stranger and seriously wounded while he was on his way to the rally.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released a statement Tuesday after two reporters came under attack by Pegida protesters. According to reports, the journalists were hit and stopped from filming the rally.

Related: Germany's History Is Fueling Hatred, Goodwill, and Lots of Confusion Amid Refugee Crisis

Anti-immigration sentiment has been gaining ground in countries that share a border with Germany.

On October 11, Austria's far right Freedom Party (FPO) made record gains in a local government election in Vienna after a campaign dominated by issues relating to the unfolding refugee crisis in Europe. The FPO ultimately lost to the Social Democrats.

In Switzerland, the right-wing, anti-immigration Swiss People's Party won the Swiss parliamentary election Sunday with 29.4 percent of the vote — up from 26.6 percent in the 2011 election.

On Saturday, an independent candidate in the Cologne mayoral race was stabbed in the neck by a man in what the police described as a "racist" attack. Henriette Reker — who used to head the city's social affairs and integration department — was elected mayor on Sunday, as she recovered from the attack in hospital.

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Related: German Neo-Nazis Accused of Urinating on Children Amid Wave of Anti-Immigrant Sentiment

Eager to quell escalating tension over the government's stance toward refugees, some politicians have reportedly drawn up a new set of measures to stem the flow of migrants. On Sunday, tabloid Bild revealed that some of Merkel's colleagues within the CDU were drawing up "a secret plan" to seal off Germany's borders.

"We need to stop the wave of refugees," CDU lawmaker Christian Von Stetten told Bild. "Considering whether to close off the borders should not be taboo."

Von Stetten currently presides over an influential group of 188 conservative lawmakers known as the Parlamentskreis Mittelstand (PKM).

The measures are due to be presented to other party members during a parliamentary group session in two weeks. Several members of the CDU/CSU have already spoken out against the idea.

Related: PEGIDA Leader Resigns After His Hitler Selfie Goes Viral

Speaking to Berlin-based German weekly Welt am Sonntag (World on Sunday), German police union Chief Rainer Wendt said he would endorse plans to build a fence along the German border.

Despite introducing temporary controls along Germany's border with Austria back in September, Merkel has repeatedly stated that closing the borders is not an efficient solution to the migrant crisis.

"We cannot close the borders. Germany has 1,900 miles of land borders… It would mean building a barbed wire fence. You can see how that worked out in Hungary. People find other ways to get in. […] It won't work," Merkel said in October.

Follow Lucie Aubourg on Twitter: @LucieAbrg

Watch VICE News' documentary Hate in Europe: Pegida Comes to Britain: