New Year sex at­tacks still linger

Con­cerns over in­te­gra­tion re­main height­ened af­ter as­saults on women by mi­grant men

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Cologne

It’s been nearly a year since Cologne’s now in­fa­mous New Year’s Eve, when a wave of sex­ual as­saults by mi­grant men hor­ri­fied Ger­many.

But stand­ing in the shadow of the west Ger­man city’s im­pos­ing cathedral, on the same square where the at­tacks hap­pened, stu­dents Sarah and Laura say the af­ter­shocks are still be­ing felt.

“Since then, all refugees are viewed with sus­pi­cion. That’s too bad, but that’s how it is,” 25-year-old Sarah told AFP, bun­dled up against the win­ter chill with a thick woolly scarf.

Her friend Laura, 20, nods and says the events had shaken her own sense of safety. “It hap­pened and you can’t for­get that. There’s a lot more ha­tred against for­eign­ers now.”

The as­saults, which made global head­lines, trig­gered a back­lash against Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s open-door refugee pol­icy and height­ened con­cerns about how to in­te­grate a record num­ber of mostly Mus­lim new­com­ers into Ger­man so­ci­ety.

As the coun­try read­ies for a gen­eral elec­tion in 2017, the shadow of Cologne looms large, with the rul­ing par­ties tough­en­ing their stance on mi­gra­tion.

Hun­dreds of women that night de­scribed run­ning a gaunt­let of theft, grop­ing and lewd in­sults in a crush of mainly Arab and north African men. Other Ger­man cities re­ported sim­i­lar as­saults.

Cologne po­lice re­ports later re­vealed that of some 1,200 com­plaints filed about the in­ci­dents, over 500 were for sex­ual as­sault. Most of the per­pe­tra­tors were never caught.

For Merkel, who had won praise for open­ing Ger­many’s bor­ders to those flee­ing con­flict and per­se­cu­tion, it was a night­mare start to the year.

Her pop­u­lar­ity plum­meted as the anx­i­ety that had been bub­bling about the refugee in­flux burst into the open, lead­ing to an­gry protests and a surge in sup­port for the an­tiIs­lam, anti-mi­grant AfD party.

“The events on New Year’s Eve did not lead to a par­a­digm shift on their own, but they ac­cel­er­ated a trend that was al­ready hap­pen­ing,” said Claus-Ul­rich Proelss, di­rec­tor of the Cologne Refugee Coun­cil aid group.

“The mood changed com­pletely,” added Syr­ian Sakher al-Mo­hamad, 27, who set up a cam­paign called Syr­i­ans Against Sex­ism af­ter the as­saults “to show sol­i­dar­ity with Ger­man women”.

But the pub­lic mood in Ger­many turned darker over the sum­mer, af­ter an ax at­tack on a train and a sui­cide bomb­ing at a mu­sic fes­ti­val left 15 peo­ple in­jured.

Vot­ers pun­ished Merkel by hand­ing her con­ser­va­tive party a se­ries of de­feats in re­gional elec­tions, whereas the pop­ulist AfD gained ground.

The once un­touch­able chan­cel­lor ad­mit­ted in Septem­ber she wished she could “turn back time” to bet­ter pre­pare for the refugee cri­sis, and promised there would be no re­peat of the un­prece­dented in­flux.

Yet for ev­ery group of pro­test­ers hold­ing up a “Rapefugees not wel­come” ban­ner, others have vol­un­teered to help refugees or have made dona­tions.

Ger­man schools have ac­com­mo­dated huge num­bers of refugee pupils, while the gov­ern­ment has set up ini­tia­tives to en­cour­age firms to hire refugees.

Still, look­ing ahead to the 2017 elec­tion, Proelss said he was brac­ing for a cam­paign he fears will fur­ther whip up an­timi­grant sen­ti­ment.

“I ex­pect the tone will har­den in the run-up to the vote,” he said. “We are re­ally wor­ried.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.