24th Oct 2016

Sex assaults enflame German migration debate

Scores of alleged sexual assaults and robberies against women on New Year’s Eve, reportedly by young men of “Arab and Northern African” appearance, has enflamed Germany’s debate on welcoming migrants.

The seemingly coordinated attacks took place at Cologne’s railway station on Thursday (31 December), when gangs of drunken men allegedly emerged from a larger crowd and began the attacks against female revellers.

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One woman filed a complaint for rape. Another 90 women were either robbed or molested, police say.

Cologne police chief Wolfgang Albers on Tuesday (5 January) told press the men looked as if they were from "the Arab or North African region" and mostly between 18 and 35 years old, Reuters reports.

He made clear there were no individual suspects yet and therefore no firm grounds to speak of their geographic origin.

Germany chancellor Angela Merkel called the attacks “disgusting assaults” and urged the assailants to be brought quickly to justice.

Around 150 people gathered in front of Cologne's cathedral on Tuesday evening to protest against the events, Reuters adds.

'General suspicion'

Germany’s top politicians tried to calm public tempers by urging people not to condemn immigrants en bloc.

But others, who are less supportive of the government’s welcoming policy on migrants, said cultural differences between Germans and immigrants should not be concealed.

Europe’s economic power house saw over 1 million migrants arrive in the country last year, mostly people from Middle Eastern countries fleeing war and poverty.

Official data shows the crime rate among immigrants is not higher than among native Germans.

But there are almost daily attacks on refugee shelters.

German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere, form Merkel's CDU party, on Tuesday warned that immigrants as a whole should not be placed under “general suspicion”.

But he conceded that such a large number of people, apparently with an immigrant background, appear to have committed the Cologne attacks represents a new dimension to the problem.

Others in the Bavarian CSU party, the sister party of the CDU, which is critical of her open-door policy, sounded a different note.

Stephan Mayer, the CSU interior affairs spokesman, said it would be “fatal” to remain silent when such crimes came from people “to whom we have granted a generous welcome in our country”, according to the Financial Times.

The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which has gained in polls in part thanks to a campaign against refugees, called for closing of Germany’s borders.

“Mrs Merkel, is Germany 'colourful and cosmopolitan' enough for you after the wave of crimes and sexual attacks?” AfD chief Frauke Petry tweeted.

Talking to a Cologne newspaper, Petry added, the violence is “the consequence of an uncontrolled migration”.

Cologne mayor Henriette Reker, while saying there was no reason to believe the attackers were refugees, pledged for new security measures to prevent such assaults, by increasing police numbers at big events and installing more security cameras.

The German city will hold carnival celebrations next month, which attract thousands of tourists.

In October, Reker was seriously hurt when she was stabbed during her campaign for the mayoral post due to her support for refugees.

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