At least 18 migrants are among the 31 people believed to have carried out a spate of attacks on women at a New Year’s Eve celebration in Cologne, Germany. More than 170 criminal complaints have been filed, the majority of which claim sexually motivated attacks. A spree of similar attacks across Europe has been used to justify fears that so many Middle East and North Africa natives will not be able to fully integrate into European societies.
“They have a completely different view of women than we do here,” Heinz Buschkowski, a prominent Social Democrat, told German radio Thursday. “Women who are on the street at 1 a.m. or 1:30 a.m. are considered whores and German women are generally considered fair game.”
Such stereotypes have been used to justify age-old fears of “dark-skinned” men defiling white women — and to stoke concerns about open policies toward migrants in Germany, as well as in other Western European countries that saw similar attacks erupt beneath fireworks on the eve of the new year.
Six women reported being groped and robbed as they rang in the new year in Zurich, Switzerland. Police described the suspects as “several dark-skinned men” and have asked witnesses as well as additional victims to come forward.
Police in Helsinki, Finland arrested three Iraqi asylum seekers for carrying out sexual assaults during new year’s festivities after women complained that asylum seekers groped their breasts or kissed them without consent.
“This phenomenon is new in Finnish sexual crime history,” Ilkka Koskimaki, the deputy chief of police in Helsinki, told the Telegraph. ”We have never before had this kind of sexual harassment happening at New Year’s Eve.”
Authorities don’t yet have all the information about the attacks, which Europeans and Americans also allegedly took part in. Still, the news is already being used to justify attacks on entire groups of people. Referring to the attacks in Germany, the prime minister of Slovakia said he would stop Muslims from entering the country.
“We don’t want something like what happened in Germany taking place in Slovakia,” Robert Fico said on Thursday.
“[O]nce you let migrants in, you can face such problems,” he told reporters, adding that Slovakia must “prevent women from being molested in public places.”
While she decried the attacks as “intolerable” and vowed to investigate the matter, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not allow the incident in Cologne to sway her open-armed approach to migrants.
Germany has taken in about 800,000 migrants — more than any other European country.
With some insisting that any migrants found guilty in the assaults to be deported instead of serving time in German prisons at the expense of German taxpayers, a spokesperson for Merkel appealed for a broader look at the issue. “This is a matter not of refugees,” Georg Streiter said, “but above all of criminality.”
That differentiation appears to be getting lost amid uncertainties around the shifting social dynamics of Europe — in tandem with violent attacks like those seen in Paris last November.
This sort of fear-mongering rhetoric has similarly been used in the U.S. to justify nativist sentiments and to generate restrictionist policies against those most vulnerable to political attacks like Muslim immigrants, undocumented immigrants, and Syrian refugees.
The United States has faced an unprecedented spike in Islamophobia since shootings in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California, with Muslims falling prey to attacks around the country.
In particular, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has seized on such sentiments to call for a total ban on Muslim immigration into the United States, while dozens of U.S. state governors have discouraged the federal government from resettling Syrian refugees in their states, claiming that the current vetting process for refugees is too lax. In fact, refugees have to undergo a stringent months-long process that involves providing biometric information, documents, and interviews.
And many leaders didn’t shy away from exploiting the death of Kathryn Steinle, an American killed in San Francisco, California at the hands of a criminal undocumented immigrant who was deported five times last year. Instead, they turned Steinle’s death into a crusade to ban so-called sanctuary cities, where local law enforcement officials can choose not to turn undocumented immigrants over to federal immigration authorities for potential deportation proceedings.
But the appeal to force cities to cooperate with federal immigration officials is a misrepresentation of the actual crime rates among undocumented immigrants, and could leave both immigrants and Americans less safe. Studies have shown that the vast majority of the 11 million undocumented immigrant population are not criminals. They also commit considerably fewer crimes than Americans on the whole.