German police on Sunday arrested dozens of machete-carrying neo-Nazis who mobilised to towns on the Polish border to push back refugees.
Those detained were members of the extreme right-wing group ‘The Third Way’, a splinter group from several political parties banned in Germany due to their neo-Nazi connections.
Crossings have been on the rise in recent months after Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko said he would no longer stop migrants entering the European Union, as a consequence of Western sanctions imposed on Belarus. Most of those migrants originally come from the Middle East and Africa.
Police said pepper spray, bayonets, machetes and batons had been found on those arrested, who had been called upon by the party to take action against migrants at the border.
“We prevented private individuals from… using force, and we will continue to do so in the future,” police spokesman Maik Kettlitz told the German news agency DPA.
Police said those arrested had come from states all across the country, including Berlin and as far away as Bavaria. Several local activists were also arrested.
Local mayor Fred Mahro said that while he hoped the border crossings would subside, he rejected all forms of vigilante action.
German interior minister Horst Seehofer on Sunday promised border controls will be reinstated on the border “if necessary” amid a “massive” climb in refugee crossings from Belarus.
This month alone, there have been almost 4,000 crossings of the Polish border into Germany “with a connection to Belarus”.
Germany has already reinforced the border regions with an additional 800 police as a result, with Seehofer promising more action was being considered.
“At the German-Polish border we have already strengthened the border guard with eight hundred federal police… there are hundreds of officers working day and night there at the moment,” he said.
“If necessary, I am ready to step up (our efforts) there even further. We will closely control the border area and the border with Poland.”
While internal border controls are prohibited in the EU, they can be reinstated as “a last resort measure, in exceptional situations,” provided such measures are proportional.
Seehofer said Germany was seeing a spike in arrivals over the Polish border via Belarus.
“We are currently experiencing irregular immigration to Germany from different directions,” he said.
“The number of refugees is increasing in Turkey, the numbers are rising massively via Poland from Belarus and we have many unauthorised entries by plane from Greece,” he told German tabloid Bild on Sunday.
“We have to be very vigilant.”