Cologne Assaults Stir Anti-Migrant Sentiment
By Vincent Maresca
The night of December 31 marked an evening of criminal rampage in several cities in Germany. Cologne reported the most burglaries and sexual assaults in one night. After victims described the suspects as Middle Eastern, these events aroused riots and violent confrontations from anti-migrant groups, reigniting the conversation on immigration in Germany.
According to NPR, a group of 1,000 men assembled at a Cologne train station before dispersing and breaking into smaller groups. They went on a rampage in the surrounding nightclubs, raping women and committing larceny.
BBC reports that criminal complaints rose to around 516 in the days after the attacks. NPR also reports that when the police began investigating the crimes, the Cologne chief of police described the assailants as being of North African and Arab descent. The police then narrowed it down to only North African origin.
Similar attacks occurred in other major German cities such as Hamburg and Stuttgart, according to CNN.
On January 6, it was confirmed that police detained and questioned three men after reviewing video footage to identify the perpetrators. However, the press and police received scrutiny for failing to address the situation.
CNN reports that German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere criticized the Cologne police’s investigation, saying they “cannot work that way.” According to BBC, the Cologne police suspended its chief for covering up evidence of the attacks.
The German television channel ZDF apologized for failing to report the criminal spree in a timely fashion on its news broadcast, because to “sensitivities concerning the alleged ethnic identities of the assailants.”
According to CNN, on January 9, Pegida, the anti-Islamic and right wing group, gathered at a rally in the streets of Cologne challenging Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open-door policy” toward asylum-seekers and refugees. After the event, the crowd turned violent as protesters threw firecrackers and bottles, and police responding with water cannons. In other parts of the city, pro-migrants held their own demonstration.
Chancellor Merkel condemned the criminal acts in Cologne and reiterated her support for refugees. However, BBC reports that Merkel, after meeting with her political party, proposed a new law that would deny asylum to individuals with a criminal background, and even those on probation. Although this new law still needs the Bundestag’s approval, it has already received support from Peter Sutherland, United Nations Special Representative for International Migration.