German Catholic leader calls for curb on refugee numbers

Supporters of the anti-Islam movement PEGIDA hold posters depicting German Chancellor Merkel during a demonstration in Dresden.Reuters

The Catholic Church in Germany has called for curbs on the inflow of refugees to the country in a further sign that Germany's ability to absorb hundreds of thousands of desperate people is being questioned.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German Bishops' Conference and the head of the Catholic Church in Germany, told Passauer Neue Presse yesterday: "As a church we say that we need a reduction in the number of refugees." Germany cannot "take in all the world's needy", he added.

Marx said that the question of how many refugees to take involved "not only compassion but also reason".

However, he made it clear he was not arguing for a total shutdown, saying: "Everyone who enters Europe should be treated fairly and with dignity." The borders of Europe should not be "the borders of death", he said.

He criticised the right-wing AfD (Alternative for Germany) party, whose leader Frauke Petry has said that police should "if need be" have the right to shoot people attempting to enter the country.

"Parties that suggest such ideas are no 'alternative for Germany'," Marx said in a play on the party's name. He warned against rising nationalism, saying: "Sadly there has always been a certain potential for right-wing extremism and racism in Germany" and that "this ideology has evidently been further consolidated" and "reached the middle class." 

"The veneer of civilization is obviously not as thick as always thought," the Cardinal said.  

Germany's anti-Islam PEGIDA movement staged rallies in several cities across Europe on Saturday, including Birmingham in the UK, to protest against the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

The movement, whose name stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, originated in the eastern German city of Dresden in 2014, with supporters seizing on a surge in asylum seekers to warn that Germany risks being overrun by Muslims.

After almost fizzling out early last year, the movement has regained momentum amid deepening public unease over whether Germany can cope with the 1.1 million migrants who arrived in the country during 2015.

Additional reporting by Reuters.