The attacks that took place around Cologne’s railway station on December 31st, when most Germans were anxious to take part in the New Year’s Eve celebrations had blood-curling effects. The shock that followed the attacks has definitely changed the way Germans, with one of the most welcoming cultures of Europe, view the refugees.
The perpetrators hailed from North African or Middle Eastern background, with the interior minister of Cologne’s region claiming they were almost exclusively migrants. Gangs of around 20-30 men, the total number of attackers being reported as around 500, sexually harassed, attacked, robbed and in some cases raped unprotected groups of women in the areas around the main station and its neighboring streets. The attacks in Cologne were not a one and off incident, as similar events of a lower scale took place in Hamburg, Stuttgart and other German cities.
The NYE events will surely change the attitude of Germans towards foreigners and migrants. With more than 1.1 million migrants arriving in Germany in 2015 Mrs. Merkel’s open door policy is put into question. As it is her “we can do this” motto for the acceptance of what has been the largest refugee wave in modern European history, a wave that Germany has come forward to handle almost single handedly.
These testosterone driven time bombs, young single males, coming from conflict zones that are designated as eligible for refugee such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria will play into the hands of the German and European far-rights and extremists. Already, far right protesters attacked Pakistanis and Syrian immigrants in the aftermath of the attack. Mrs. Merkel’s legacy will be defined by her response not only to the refugee influx, but also her attempts to integrate a group of people with a different cultural background to the mainstream European values.
Mrs. Merkel ought to respond to an issue that has proved to become extremely divisive in Europe, and will shape and lead the ideological debate in the following years. The Bundestag already drafted new laws that will make it easier to deport asylum seekers and illegal immigrants convicted of sexual crimes, physical assault and resisting police. Although these steps are necessary and long overdue, they are not enough to curb the growing distrust for Merkel’s policies both in Germany and the rest of Europe.
The German government ought to come up with a plan to integrate the immigrant population, to make them part of Germany. An increasing number of courses and trainings should be offered in order to introduce the social, political, and cultural values of Germany to recently arrived immigrants and refugees alike. Language courses will not be enough for their integration. The newcomers should understand and be able to respect the values and the rules in their new countries. Also, the earlier they integrate into the job market and leave the social benefits scheme the better for the German economy and for them. Otherwise, they risk getting trapped into the social assistance complacency trap putting an extra burden to the German economy, or feel marginalized and create an opposition mentality towards integration.
Lastly, it is high time for Europe to answer the question of who is defined as a refugee in terms of place of origin. Until now, only a fraction of people arriving Germany and Western Europe are from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, with a large portion coming from Algeria, Morocco, Pakistan, and other countries from Africa and Asia. The screening process in European borders in order to turn back the ones who do not qualify for an asylum status will have to be implemented rigorously with the same standards in the whole of EU. Otherwise, it will be Germany and the Nordic countries bearing the social and economic burden of an uncontrolled economic migration.