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German Anti-Migrant March Draws Thousands

Between 7,000 and 10,000 protesters joined Monday's rally on Dresden's main Neumarkt square, many of them waving German flags and marching beneath banners denouncing the "Islamization of Europe."
Pierre Longeray
Paris, FR
October 6, 2015, 7:55pm
via Kalispera Dell/Wikimedia Commons

Supporters of Germany's anti-immigration Pegida movement were back on the streets of Dresden Monday to protest against the government's plans to take in refugees.

Between 7,000 and 10,000 protesters joined Monday's rally on Dresden's main Neumarkt square, many of them waving German flags and marching beneath banners denouncing the "Islamization of Europe."

Watching anti-migrant rally in Dresden, Germany by PEGIDA group. — Katie Orr (@1KatieOrr)October 5, 2015

Founded in Dresden in October 2014, the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) movement started off as a weekly demonstration against the government's immigration policies. But despite drawing a record 25,000 demonstrators at a rally in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the movement eventually lost momentum, and was further weakened when German tabloid Bild published a photo of its founder and leader, Lutz Bachmann, posing as Hitler.

Related: Germany's Anti-Islam Pegida Movement Surpasses Predictions in Local Polls

"PEGIDA is taking advantage of the current situation and of information released by the media," said Nele Wissman, a research fellow with the Study Committee on French-German Relations (CERFA), at France's International Relations Institute (IFRI).

"There has been talk of violence inside the shelters, of the government's inability to manage the situation and of [migrant] numbers that are going through the roof because of family reunification," Wissman said.

According to Bild, the country is facing an influx of up to 1.5 million new asylum seekers this year — almost double the previously estimated 800,000 new arrivals. Citing a 'confidential' government document, Bild reported that the government predicts each asylum seeker will bring between four and eight family members with them to Germany.

"An Ethnocide of the German People"
Many of the banners and signs spotted at Mondays rally were aimed specifically at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who relaxed the country's immigration rules in September.

"Merkel is committing ethnocide against the German people," read one banner. A confederate flag and several Norwegian flags could also be seen floating above the crowd.

"Yes, there were 10,000 people [there] last night, but it's still a far cry from the 25,000 people we saw a few months ago," said Wissman, noting that many of the movement's founding members had quit. "Last year, these demonstrations brought together a variety of different movements," she said.

"There were xenophobes, neo-Nazis, but also people who were simply afraid. Today, there is no doubt about it, the call to demonstrate is coming from Bachmann himself, and it really is a far-right protest." Last Friday, prosecutors in Dresden charged Bachmann with inciting racial hatred for posting messages labeling migrants "cattle" and "filth" on Facebook. If found guilty, the PEGIDA founder faces up to five years in prison.

On Tuesday, German journalists demanded police protection after several reporters came under attack by PEGIDA protesters. Last week, a protest turned violent when one reporter was punched in the face and another kicked. Journalists reporting from Monday's rally walked "in tortoise formation, like Roman Legions, to protect themselves," a journalist told AFP.

Related: 31 Police Officers Injured as Anti-Immigrant Protesters Riot in Germany

A ceiling on the number of migrants?
"It won't stop with 1.5 or two million," Bachmann told protesters at the end of the rally. "They will have their wives come, and one, two, three children." He concluded by saying, "It is an impossible task to integrate these people."

Speaking Monday from Stuttgart, German interior minister Thomas de Maizière called on the government to consider restricting the number of refugees coming to Germany — a plan Merkel is opposed to.

"Our capabilities are limited," said de Maizière, adding that a ceiling on numbers would help help the public see the migrant crisis as an opportunity, rather than a challenge.

Despite images of Germans enthusiastically welcoming migrants in cities like Munich, the country has seen a spate of xenophobic attacks in the past few weeks, including several suspected arson attacks against migrants shelters.

On Monday, an Eritrean migrant died in a blaze at a refugee shelter in the east of the country, becoming the first migrant to die in a suspected arson attack.

Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray

Watch VICE News' documentary _Hate in Europe: Germany's Anti-Islamic Protests: _