One week after New Year's Eve celebrations soured in Cologne, Germany, when an apparently coordinated outbreak of sexual assault, mugging and rape of some 90 women ringing in 2016 broke out, #rapefugees is trending on Twitter, and that anti-refugee rhetoric is trending across the European Union.
In a press conference Tuesday, Cologne police Chief Wolfgang Albers said the suspects were "Arab or North African" in their appearance, opening the door to speculation the perpetrators were refugees.
In a subsequent press conference Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the attacks, Reuters reported.
"What happened at New Year is completely unacceptable," Merkel said, calling the victimization of women "intolerable" and saying it would be necessary to "keep talking about the basis of our cultural coexistence in Germany and what people rightly expect is that actions follow words," and, in reconsidering current deportation laws, "to send a clear signal to people who do not want to stick to our legal framework."
"Everything that happened," she said, "must come out into the open."
The situation. Unfortunately for Merkel, the details that are coming into the open confirm the fears of some who have opposed the unquantified acceptance of refugees. In a leaked internal report by the German federal police and published in the Spiegel, one suspect stated he was from Syria.
"I'm Syrian," the man told investigators, according to the Spiegel. "You have to treat me nicely. Ms. Merkel invited me."
Another "tore up his residence permit before the eyes of police officers, grinned and said, 'You can't do anything to me, I'll get myself a new one tomorrow.'" Whether or not the documents were authentic and which kind of documents they were, the report didn't say.
A local newspaper reported that local authorities had held 15 asylum seekers from Syria and Afghanistan as suspects in the assault, but ultimately let them go. There is no evidence, officers said, these refugees helped instigate the attacks.
The quandry. Merkel's open-door policy has come under fire in recent months, generating criticism even within her ruling coalition. Following the ISIS-linked terrorist attacks on Paris in November, she faced pressure from the EU to tighten her country's regulations in accepting refugees. The country welcomed upward of 1 million individuals seeking asylum in 2015, the Wall Street Journal reports, the largest number of immigrants it has accepted since 1950.
According to the Deutsche Welle, Merkel rejected a proposal Wednesday to limit the number of refugees Germany would accept in 2016. This is the second time she has passed on the call for a cap, but the refusal to regulate the flow of migrants into Germany is escalating tension within Germany on the subject of the ability of refugees to coexist with German nationals.
"It must be quite clear that everybody who lives in Germany and who wishes to live here must respect our laws and our social order, and must integrate," Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said. "Anyone who fails to do so, will feel the full force of the law."
That sort of rhetoric isn't necessarily unsurprising, but it is troubling, considering Germany's history. It's also indicative of sentiments mounting within segments of the national population. According to Newsweek, the anti-Muslim movement Pegida will protest Saturday in Cologne, which argues that trouble comes to those who do not respect the laws of their host countries.
The definitive identification of the New Year's Eve attackers as Syrian would play into the hands of Germany's political right, as well as those who have argued that the unchecked influx of asylum seekers poses a threat to the EU as a whole.
Meanwhile, in the Nordic region... Sweden broke with tradition on Sunday when it tightened security on its border.. Now, anyone who wishes to enter must present papers when crossing into the country. This is the first time since the 1950s that Sweden has implemented such measures, and the closure has prompted Denmark to do the same, in an effort to stanch the flow of migrants traveling up to Sweden from Germany.
Sweden's ruling coalition between the Social Democrats and the Greens had previously welcomed refugees, but under pressure from its political right, instituted temporary border regulations back in November that prompted Sweden's deputy prime minister to burst into tears, as the move flies in the face of Sweden's traditional open-door policy toward those seeking safety.
In 2015 over 160,000 asylum seekers came to Sweden, with some 10,000 weekly submitting applications in the fall alone. The total number was — in proportion to Sweden's population just under 10 million — the highest in Europe, and one the country aims to winnow down to a weekly 1,000 in the new year. Swedish opponents of the decision fear a "domino effect" in other countries' policies, the Guardian reports, "as countries compete to outdo each other in their hostility to asylum seekers."