What's going on in Germany and what could it mean for NZ?

Sydney Morning Herald

Police say around some 60 women reported being robbed, threatened or sexually molested at New Year celebrations in the western city of Cologne.

The repercussions of the New Year's Eve assaults in Germany are being felt across Europe as more details emerge. 

In what has been described as a new dimension of organised crime, crowds of men went on a rampage as people gathered to celebrate outside the German city's main train station. More than 500 criminal complaints have been received.

Police have been criticised for the way they acted on the night and for withholding information from the public.

READ MORE:
Sexual assaults in Cologne challenge Germany's welcoming attitude toward refugees
Germany now has North Africa's sex crime troubles
* Leaked police Cologne sex attacks report implicates asylum-seekers
* Cologne mayor mocked for advice to women after mass attacks

 

Here's what we know so far:

A police vehicle patrols at the main square and in front of the central railway station in Cologne after the attacks.
WOLFGANG RATTAY/REUTERS

A police vehicle patrols at the main square and in front of the central railway station in Cologne after the attacks.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Police said the attacks occurred on one of Cologne's central squares outside the city's majestic Cathedral. About 1000 men split into gangs as officers cleared a square to stop fireworks being thrown from the top of steps into the crowd below. 

Scores of women were sexually assaulted and robbed. Some victims have spoken out, saying they feared for their lives as they were surrounded by tens of men who groped them "everywhere". 

The attacks prompted more than 500 criminal complaints with 45 per cent of them involving sexual violation. As of Sunday, police had received complaints of 237 alleged sexual offences, 107 of which also involved theft. The sexual assaults included two rapes. There were also 279 cases of robbery and (non-sexual) assault.

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Witnesses and the police described the perpetrators as "Arab and North African men".

WHO'S RESPONSIBLE?

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas addresses the Cologne assaults.
FABRIZIO BENSCH/REUTERS

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas addresses the Cologne assaults.

A police report released in full on Monday said young migrant men were behind the attacks. The report was presented by the North Rhine-Westphalia region's Interior Minister Ralf Jaeger to a state parliament committee.

Most of the perpetrators were drunk, and "totally uninhibited and aggressive," it said. 

Police have identified 19 suspects. None of the suspects were German: ten were officially asylum seekers and nine were suspected of being in Germany illegally. Fourteen of the suspects were from Morocco and Algeria. None of them had any identifiable residence in Cologne, and their whereabouts were unknown.

NOT JUST COLOGNE...

Reports of sexual assaults by foreigners on New Year's Eve was not confined to Cologne. Hamburg police said 133 similar charges had been lodged, and there were also reports of attacks in Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Stuttgard, and Weil am Rhein. There were also complaints of assaults by alleged migrants in Austria, Sweden, Finland, and Switzerland.

POLICE COVER-UP

Protesters gather in front of Hauptbahnhof main railway station to protest against the New Year's Eve sex attacks.
SASCHA SCHUERMANN/GETTY IMAGES

Protesters gather in front of Hauptbahnhof main railway station to protest against the New Year's Eve sex attacks.

Police failed to mention the attacks around Cologne's main train station in their initial morning report on New Year's Day, which described overnight festivities as "largely peaceful". Following mounting criticism of the police force's handling of the case, Cologne's police chief was dismissed on Friday. 

Some alleged that the police as well as German media outlets that have been largely welcoming to refugees over the past year had deliberately ignored the crimes for days. Others demanded a tougher response to offences committed by refugees who arrived under Merkel's "open door" policy. 

TO MAKE THINGS WORSE...

The Mayor of Cologne was then ridiculed after she suggested a code of conduct for women in response to the attacks. Henriette Reker recommended women keep a certain distance – "an arm's length" – from strangers on the street and remain within groups to avoid being singled out.

Reker, who made international headlines in October after being stabbed on the campaign trail due to her pro-refugee stance, was accused of victim-blaming. 

BORDERS TIGHTENING AMID REFUGEE INFLUX

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Victims of a mass indecent assault during New Year's Eve celebrations in the German city of Cologne say they feared for their lives.

Germany is one of Europe's most welcoming nations – the country took in more than 1.1 million migrants and refugees in the past year. It has strained to accommodate and integrate the record numbers but has no measures to keep additional asylum seekers out as Merkel opposes an upper limit.

Austrian newspaper Die Presse reported on Monday that police on Germany's southern border with Austria were starting to turn back more refugees – several hundred a day – adopting a stricter interpretation of the rules under which asylum seekers are allowed to stay.

Merkel's long-stated belief is that migration is not a German problem, but a European one.

However the European Union's plans to implement quotas and relocate refugees across member states have largely failed.

In the meantime, checkpoints, border patrols, and fences are on the rise. Denmark has introduced checks on its border with Germany; Austria is reinforcing its border; Italy is considering controls on its border with Slovenia; Hungary is helping Macedonia to build a fence. 

VIOLENT BACKLASH

Angela Merkel said on Thursday that the prospect of women being "defenceless" is "personally unbearable".
FREDRIK VON ERICHSEN/REUTERS

Angela Merkel said on Thursday that the prospect of women being "defenceless" is "personally unbearable".

Signs of a changing mood are increasingly prevalent in Germany, as the far-right has seized on the event as proof Merkel's welcoming stance is flawed.

Hundreds of attacks on refugees and asylum centres have been recorded, anti-immigration protests continue to draw thousands, and recents fears about terrorism have strained police resources.

Protesters from groups opposed to immigration from Muslim countries took to the streets on Saturday, where they met with left-wing counter-protests. 

At least 11 foreigners were injured on Sunday evening in attacks police said were co-ordinated on social media by extremists from the "hooligan, rocker or bouncer scene". The victims included six Pakistanis, two Syrians, and three people from Guinea. 

"FUNDAMENTAL DEBATE" NEEDED

Merkel has called for a "fundamental debate" on how to integrate immigrants, saying the attacks raise "serious questions that go beyond Cologne". 

Police use pepper spray to control supporters of Pegida, Hogesa (Hooligans against Salafists) and other right-wing ...
GETTY IMAGES

Police use pepper spray to control supporters of Pegida, Hogesa (Hooligans against Salafists) and other right-wing populist groups as they protest against the sex attacks.

"We must speak again about the cultural fundamentals of our coexistence," she said.

Jaeger said it was "wrong and dangerous" to stigmatise groups of foreigners as sexual predators, the local Express newspaper reported. However he said such crimes were unacceptable and those responsible should be punished.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas said: "As abominable as the crimes in Cologne and other cities were, one thing remains clear: there is no justification for blanket agitation against foreigners... [some people] appear just to have been waiting for the events of Cologne."

POPE FRANCIS CHIPS IN

On Monday, the Pope urged European leaders not to lose "the values and principle of humanity... however much they may prove, in some moments of history, a burden difficult to bear". He didn't specifically refer to Cologne, but the address was rather timely.

WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN FOR NEW ZEALAND?

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse says New Zealand has a robust screening process for migrants entering New Zealand.
CAMERON BURNELL/ FAIRFAX NZ

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse says New Zealand has a robust screening process for migrants entering New Zealand.

Rest assured, New Zealand has a robust process for screening refugees entering the country. 

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said the country only takes refugees who have been refereed by the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].

"In addition to the UNHCR's own screening process, all refugee cases submitted for consideration undergo robust assessments as part of INZ's decision-making process," she said.

"That includes on and off-shore screening and assessment that focuses on credibility, risk and settlement to ensure that the person is not a security risk or character of concern to New Zealand, and that settlement in New Zealand is the right option for them."

Labour MP and Spokesman for Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway said there was no reason for New Zealand to change its immigration policies based on the recent events in Europe.

"All refugees we accept come through the UNHCR process and so they've been through a lot of vetting, that takes years, to become eligible to come to New Zealand," Lees-Galloway said.

"The debate we should be having is how many refugees can we take so we are sufficiently playing our part as good international citizens."

 - Stuff

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