Cities across Europe, including Birmingham, Calais, Prague, Dresden, Dublin and Amsterdam, witnessed rallies on Saturday by the German anti-Islam movement Pegida. The marches were organised in protest at the influx of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa, many fleeing civil war and poverty.
Former English Defence League chief Tommy Robinson, now part of Pegida’s UK chapter, organised the UK march. "The growing influence Islam has on society is not good for society,” he told around protesters at the group’s inaugural rally. “The more Islam the less freedom, that's a reality."
According to The Guardian, some of the Birmingham demonstrators held placards lauding Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate who in November called for a halt to all Muslim immigration into the US.
Robinson said: “As we set off at 2pm, people set off in Germany, in Holland, in Bulgaria, in the Czech Republic, in Belgium, in Poland. Our opposition will say you achieved nothing today – the whole of Europe is talking about this debate right now thanks to every single person in Europe that’s taken part in it.”
Some 60 anti-fascism activists staged a counter protester, the groups kept separate by local police.
Pegida, which stands for ‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West,’ grew out of a far right backlash against asylum seekers in Dresden in 2014, and used growing fear over the migrant crisis to expand its membership beyond German shores.
The group has gathered particular momentum in Germany, which saw an influx of more than a million migrants last year. Pegida supporters claim German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open door policy is folly, highlighting the alleged involvement of migrants in the Cologne attacks on New Year’s Eve as proof.
More than 8,000 demonstrators marched through Dresden on Saturday. Reported by Reuters, Pegida member Siegfried Daebritz told the large crowd on the banks of the River Elbe, “We must succeed in guarding and controlling Europe's external borders as well as its internal borders once again"
Several hundred counter protesters staged a rally opposing the anti-immigrant message.
Trouble flared at a much smaller gathering in Calais, northern France. The city has witnessed rising tensions between the local population and the migrants living in tented camps also know as “the jungle.” French police said 12 people were arrested after hundreds turned up to a protest that local authorities had banned.
In Prague, 2,000 people took part in a similar protest, which was met by anti-Pegida demonstrators. In Warsaw, hundreds marched, many waving Polish flags, while around 200 gathered in the Dutch city of Amsterdam.
Scuffles broke out in Dublin as the anti-Islamisation group launched in the Republic of Ireland. Several hundred anti-fascist campaigners came out in protest at the launch. Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan told an anti-racism rally: " We are standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity to show that there is no place in Ireland for racism and Islamophobia."