Tuesday

31st Jan 2023

German AfD party reviled over 'shoot refugees' comments

  • AfD protest, with Pretzell (above the letters 'br') and Petry on his right. Above the 'g' is Von Storch (Photo: AfD)

German anti-immigrant and eurosceptic party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has found itself cornered over comments on shooting refugees who try to cross the border illegally.

On Saturday (30 January), regional daily Mannheimer Morgen published an interview with AfD chairperson Frauke Petry, to discuss her plan for “comprehensive checks” on the German-Austrian border to prevent unregistered refugees from coming in.

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She said police must “prevent illegal border crossings, if necessary also by using firearms”, noting that it was “in the law”.

“No policeman wants to shoot at refugees. I don't want that. But the use of firearms is part of the last resort," she said, adding that it was crucial “not to let it come that far”.

It wasn’t the first time an AfD member discussed the use of firearms to prevent border crossings.

In November 2015, an AfD member of the European Parliament (MEP) Marcus Pretzell already noted “the defence of Germany borders with armed force as a last resort is self-evident”.

Following Petry's comments, a third AfD member also discussed the possibility of shooting refugees.

MEP Beatrix von Storch, AfD vice-chairwoman since mid-January, was asked her via her public Facebook page if border police should use armed force to prevent women with children crossing the border illegally. She replied: "Yes".

After heavy criticism, she tried to nuance her comment, saying on Monday (1 February) that the use of firearms against children was "rightly, not allowed”.

“But women are, unlike children, sensible, so that the use here may be allowed under the legally narrow limits of [paragraphs] 11,12 and 13 of the UZwG," she wrote, referring to a law on the use force by German authorities.

A spokesperson for the federal interior ministry said on Monday “the use of firearms against people to stop an illegal border crossing is unlawful”.

"It goes without saying: No German policeman will use a firearm against people who are searching for protection in Germany,” spokesperson Johannes Dimroth told journalists.

Von Storch, a former lawyer, tried to defend her comments as being of a purely legalistic nature, but the mere debate on the issue has brought back bad memories of people being shot when they tried to breach the Berlin Wall - and strident criticism by the AfD's political opponents.

Centre-left vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said on Sunday that the AfD merits scrutiny by German intelligence, along with other left and right-wing extremists.

“To me, the AfD belongs in the Annual Report on the Protection of the Constitution, and not on TV,” he said, according to Bild am Sonntag.

Gabriel's fellow Social Democrat party MP, Thomas Oppermann, said Petry's proposal was "reminiscent of the firing order in the GDR", the communist German Democratic Republic, which used lethal force to prevent people from fleeing its territory.

“The last German politician who was shooting at refugees was [GDR leader] Erich Honecker,” said Oppermann.

One of the AfD’s founders, Bernd Lucke, who since left the party to set up a new one, also said the way the AfD regarded refugees was “inhuman”.

He said he “did not expect this radicalisation”.

Meanwhile, attacks against planned or inhabited refugee shelters in Germany have continued.

A police chief in the eastern German city of Leipzig said he was very worried about the situation, noting there was a “pogrom atmosphere” in which some people felt justified to use violence against asylum seekers.

Meanwhile, police in Cologne are looking to increase security ahead of a carnival, which begins on Thursday (4 February).

The city is under scrutiny after groups of men, mostly of “North African or Arab appearance”, attacked women on New Year’s Eve, triggering an emotional debate on how to integrate the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants coming to the EU's largest state.

This article initially said Von Storch was asked via Facebook if border police should shoot women with children crossing the border illegally. This was corrected on 4 February to say she was asked if border police should use armed force ('mit Waffengewalt' in the German language) to prevent women with children crossing the border illegally.

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