How apprehended refugees could reshape Germany's asylyum debate

Two asylum seekers have been arrested and several others are suspected in connection with the recent attack on women in Cologne, further intensifying an already-heated debate over Germany’s welcoming of refugees into its borders.

Monika Skolimowska/dpa/AP
North Rhine-Westphalia Interior Minister Ralf Jaeger attends a press conference in Duesseldorf, Germany, Friday. Following the incidents at Cologne Main Station, on New Year's Eve, Jaeger was sending Cologne's head of police, Wolfgang Albers into early retirement.

Two asylum seekers have been arrested and more than a dozen others are suspected in connection with the recent attack on women in Cologne, further intensifying an already-heated debate over Germany’s welcoming of refugees into its borders.

Initially, approximately 90 women reported being assaulted or robbed in the attack, which occurred on New Year’s Eve in Cologne’s central square as revelers gathered to celebrate and ring in the new year. One woman reported being raped. The number of reports has since risen to 170, 120 of which “have a sexual angle,” Christoph Gilles, a spokesman for the Cologne police, said at a news conference on Friday.

Many of the victims described the perpetrators of the attacks as being Middle Eastern or North African in appearance. The two men who were arrested were described as having “North African” roots.

Earlier this week, Arnold Plickert, leader of the North Rhine-Westphalia branch of Germany's main police union, stressed that the attacks should not be used as an opportunity for generating anti-refugee sentiment.

"[T]he great majority of the people who have come to us have done so because their lives are no longer safe in their homelands,” he told Deutsche Welle.

Cologne's mayor, Henriette Reker – whose comments about a new "code of conduct" for young women inspired a satirical hashtag – agreed, saying that Germans should not assume that the perpetrators of the attacks were migrants. 

But the Cologne police has also come under criticism for its lack of transparency in handling the attacks, with some critics contending that the police department covered up the fact that there were migrants involved in the assaults. Cologne police now say that they are seeking 18 asylum-seekers among the 31 suspects that they have currently identified in connection to the New Year’s Eve attacks. And Wolfgang Albers, Cologne’s chief of police, has since been removed from his post.

While the attacks may inspire tougher penalties for those refugees who do commit crimes, it may also inspire momentum on a proposed amendment that would update Germany’s rape laws. The new amendment would broaden the definition of rape to include lack of consent.

This report contains material from Reuters.

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