BERLIN (Reuters) - Police raided a migrant shelter in southern Germany on Thursday three days after officers clashed with residents over the deportation of an asylum seeker from Togo.
The unrest at the shelter in the southern town of Ellwangen has been seized upon by politicians from across the spectrum to highlight the difficulties Germany faces in integrating the more than 1.6 million migrants who have arrived since 2014 and that the influx poses a security risk.
Police said it arrested a handful of individuals suspected of drugs offences during Thursday’s raid and moved 17 residents of the hostel, home to around 500 mostly African asylum seekers, to other locations.
Three people and one police officer were slightly hurt during the raid, said a medical team spokesman.
Officers also found the 23-year-old Togolese man, identified by media as Yussif O., whom they had been trying to deport on Monday, police said. No weapons were found during the operation, which started at dawn and was ongoing.
Senior officer Bernhard Weber said police believed a ‘lawless area with organized structures’ was developing at the hostel to prevent authorities carrying out deportations, so they took action.
“We will not let any lawless areas, as were apparent here, develop,” Weber told reporters.
On Monday police said they were forced to release the Togolese man due for deportation when around 150 residents of the hostel surrounded and threatened them and damaged one of their cars.
Many politicians, including some Greens, praised the police and said German law must be adhered to. Some on the right said the clashes showed the influx of migrants, many fleeing war in the Middle East, has led to a collapse in law and order.
German authorities are still wading through a backlog of asylum cases, a result of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 open-door migrant policy which has also dented her popularity and hit her conservatives’ popularity in last year’s election.
Conservative Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, former leader of Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU, said he supported the police operation and condemned violence by refugees.
“Such behavior has to be tackled with the full force of the law,” he told reporters in Berlin. “This is a slap in the face of law-abiding citizens.”
Seehofer is trying to finalize a deal with his Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners to allow a limited number of family reunions for some migrants, a hotly contested issue. Germany is also trying to find ways to integrate migrants better into the labor market as well as into mainstream society.
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which scored nearly 13 percent in the election and is the main opposition, also seized on the incident.
“The rule of law is being trampled on by its ‘guests’. This is just the beginning,” said AfD co-leader Alice Weidel.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky