The German government announced on Wednesday that it was strengthening its border controls with Poland and the Czech Republic, responding to increasing political pressure to deal with the rising number of people it said were illegally crossing into the east of the country.
The moves follow months of complaints from several eastern regions, where the far-right Alternative for Germany party, known as the AfD, has gained strength, that too many migrants and asylum seekers are entering the country. The move also comes ahead of two key state elections in Bavaria and Hesse early next month.
Immigration has become a major issue in German politics in recent months, with major parties urging action to address rising numbers of asylum seekers. The calls come amid increased support, even in some western regions, for the AfD.
The government’s new willingness to try to control the number of migrants and asylum seekers by placing checks at the borders of neighboring European Union countries represents a change from an earlier era under Angela Merkel, the former chancellor, analysts said.
At the time, Germany showed a clear willingness to accommodate large numbers of asylum seekers and try to integrate them into German society. But the rise in some regions of right-wing populism is forcing a reconsideration of the current German model for immigration.
“Germany has benefited from the spirit of openness of the European Union, and for the country now to put up even temporary borders shows that there is a lot of backlash in the country about migration,” said Sudha David-Wilp, a senior fellow to the German Marshall Fund, a research institute.
The government ordered what it said were “flexible priority checks” on smuggling routes to crack down on criminal gangs that bring migrants into the country. This includes “mobile checks on changing locations,” according to the Interior Ministry.
It ended the stationary border controls that have been in place on the Austrian border since 2015, at the height of the migration crisis. The stagnant checks likely brought Germany into conflict with EU rules, analysts said.
German police officers are already carrying out roving checks within the territory of the eastern states. But the new measures will give them the ability to carry out checks directly at the border, the government said.
“We must stop the cruel business of smugglers who put human lives at risk for maximum profits,” said Nancy Faeser, the interior minister. “Therefore, the federal police will carry out additional flexible focus checks on smuggling routes at the borders of Poland and the Czech Republic with immediate effect.”
The influx of asylum seekers, from countries including Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, reached its peak almost a decade ago, when around one million people entered Germany in a year, according to to Gerald Knaus, the founding chairman of the European Stability Initiative.
Last year, there were approximately 217,770 first-time asylum applications; in the first eight months of this year, there were approximately 204,460 such applications, according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.
But these figures do not include the more than a million Ukrainians who have entered Germany since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and are not required to claim asylum.
Overall, the number of asylum applicants is fueling real concerns about the money needed to care for the new arrivals, with mayors and district leaders complaining that the federal government has left them without the means to deal the situation. The complaints have increased pressure on the government to crack down on illegal smuggling gangs and to tighten border controls.
“The German government is under pressure from many sides,” said Petra Bendel, a professor and immigration expert at the Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. He said that municipalities and states “feel that they are overwhelmed by so many immigrants coming to Germany.”
“There are a lot of people,” he added. “We are struggling to provide housing and access to health care and access to education for all. The question is whether these measures will be effective.”
At the height of the migrant crisis, asylum seekers favored entry routes to the south of Germany, but now, people are also crossing to the east, the government said. The Interior Ministry said that nearly one in four of the new arrivals who enter Germany without permission are smuggled into the country.
Concerns over illegal immigration, and the measures needed to curb it, have raised tensions with neighbors such as Poland, and there are concerns that increased controls could cause congestion at crossing points and can slow down trade.
Disagreement over how to deal with the newcomers was felt within the governing coalition, made up of the center-left Social Democrats, the Free Democratic Party and the Greens and led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat. The Greens and the Free Democrats ventured on both sides of the issue.
The Greens dismissed the concerns of rank-and-file members and recently agreed to a Europe-wide proposal that would strengthen the bloc’s external borders.
But the secretary general of the Free Democrats, a pro-business, somewhat libertarian-minded party, suggested in a newspaper interview that Germany should stop paying welfare to migrants to reduce the incentive to come to Germany.
The Greens also refuse to declare some countries – Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria or India – as safe countries, which would allow the German authorities to more easily deport those who have rejected asylum applications.
As part of his re-election campaign in Bavaria, the conservative governor, Markus Söder, proposed limiting migration to 200,000 asylum seekers per year. Experts say such a move would be legally difficult.
In such a crowded environment, said Ms. David-Wilp, the research fellow, felt that the government of Mr. Scholz that it needs to act.
“They know this is an issue that is tearing at the fabric of Germany today,” he said. “I don’t think Scholz can shake that off.”
Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Munich.