Europe’s refugee crisis

Mass brawl erupts between far-right extremists and asylum seekers in German town

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 8:35am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 8:35am

Clashes broke out between dozens of asylum seekers and far-right extremists in an eastern German city, forcing police to call in reinforcements to quell the violence, police said Thursday.

Around 20 youth asylum seekers sparked the violence on Wednesday night in the city of Bautzen, police chief Uwe Kilz said, when they began flinging bottles and wooden slats at some 80 German young men and women from the far-right scene.

The right-wing extremists, many of whom were drunk, returned the abuse with stones and bottles, he added, in the latest incident to hit the small former communist town, which has been the scene of several eruptions of hostility toward refugees.

The arrival of around one million asylum seekers in 2015 has deeply polarised Germany, and fuelled a surge in support for right-wing populists AfD.

The group of asylum seekers, identified as unaccompanied minors, also threw projectiles at the 100 officers sent in to stop the clashes, said Kilz, adding that police had to use pepper spray and batons to separate the groups.

The battling sides subsequently left the scene, but the far-right extremists broke up into smaller groups and chased the migrants to a refugee shelter.

The migrants fled into the building, while officers formed a cordon to prevent attacks, police said, adding that three other shelters had to be protected by security forces overnight.

In a video circulating on social media, the far-right group could be heard chanting “we are the people”.

Meanwhile an ambulance sent for a 18-year-old Moroccan man, who was found with a gash on his arm, was also pelted by stones by the German extremists, said police.

The trouble had already been building up over a few days, said Kilz.

Young migrants had begun gathering regularly at the flashpoint downtown square called Kornmarkt over the summer.

And their presence has drawn increasing numbers of anti-migrant militants, apparently mobilised through Facebook posts, said the police chief.

Skirmishes had already broken out over the last week, but not on the scale of Wednesday’s battle.

Bautzen authorities are planning to impose an alcohol ban and 7pm curfew on the 30 youth asylum seekers living in the town, according to local media reports.

Four of the migrant “ring-leaders” in Wednesday’s violence have also been transferred to another commune, according to local authorities.

Condemning the violence, Mayor Alexander Ahrens said “Bautzen must not become the playground of violent right extremists.”

MP Caren Lay of the far-left opposition Linke party said “that so many neo-Nazis were able to come together so quickly leads one to suspect that this racist attack was planned”, adding that the “pogrom atmosphere” in Bautzen must end.

Former communist eastern Germany has been the scene of several ugly incidents in which far-right extremists targeted asylum seekers.

In February, a cheering crowd was seen in front of a burning asylum-seeker home in Bautzen, clapping and shouting: “Good that’s up in flames.”

That same weekend, a video emerged of far-right thugs intimidating refugees - including crying children - and preventing them from getting off a bus to get into an asylum-seeker home at another eastern town Clausnitz.

President Joachim Gauck, who had on several occasions urged Germans to extend a welcoming hand to refugees, was booed during a visit to Bautzen, a town of 40,000 people which borders the Czech Republic.

Germany recorded nearly 1,000 far-right offences targeting refugee shelters last year, a five-fold annual rise.