Since the Paris Attacks and Cologne Sex Attacks, attitudes in Germany towards immigration have turned cold. Germany has accepted more refugees than its neighbours, and Merkel was initially praised for her magnanimous gesture. But the rising levels of discontent from citizens, the German parliament and the EU puts the future of immigration at question.

How enthusiasm for immigration declined in Germany

When the world saw the innocent Aylan Kurdi lying lifelessly on the Turkish beach, the boy instantly became the face of the dire situation in the Syrian conflict. The death of a child roused sympathy from us, we urged world leaders to save the refugees before they would share Aylan Kurdi’s fate. Chancellor Merkel generously opened Germany’s doors to welcome the migrants, and German citizens also cordially received their new neighbours. However, excitement turned sour after the Paris Attacks on 13 November. There were three perpetrators, authorities found a Syrian passport near the body of a suicide attacker. Greek authorities confirmed someone had used this passport to enter Leros on October 2015.  Panic spread across Europe as authorities feared there could be terrorists masquerading as refugees.

Then, the Cologne sex attacks prompted many Germans to question Merkel’s open-door policy. The attacks occurred during a New Year’s Eve celebration; victims reported men of Middle Eastern and North African backgrounds sexually harassed, assaulted and robbed them. According to the police, a majority of the perpetrators have a “migrant background”. Ralf Jaeger, the interior minister from North Rhine-Westphalia, commented:

“Based on testimony from witnesses, the report from the Cologne police and descriptions by the federal police, it looks as if people with a migration background were almost exclusively responsible for the criminal acts.”

Police arrested their first suspect, who was a 26-year old Algerian man. Authorities also reported 883 put in complaints about the night of the attacks, and the number of crimes are sit on 766.

Police automobile in front of Cologne Central Station a week after New Year's Eve 2015 sexual assaults in Germany by Superbass - Licensed under Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

Police automobile in front of Cologne Central Station a week after New Year’s Eve 2015 sexual assaults in Germany by Superbass – Licensed under Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

The backlash on migrants

In the aftermath of the attacks, some have taken the opportunity to lash out their malcontent on accepting refugees from the Middle East. A gang violently assaulted a group of Pakistani and Syrian migrants on 10 January, and 200 men also surrounded buildings in the city of Leipzig demanding police to respond to those mass attacks. Ultra-right winged groups like PEDIGA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West), based in Dresden, gathered in Cologne to protest against immigration of Muslims. The small number of supporters have risen from hundreds to thousands.

Outside of Germany, Charlie Hebdo also joined the chorus in anti-immigration. The publication depicted a controversial cartoon suggesting if Aylan Kurdi grew up, he would be a sex offender.

Parts of Germany have taken their own measures to prevent future incidents. Bonheimn, a town in Western Germany, has imposed a ban on male refugees from accessing the swimming pool. The small town’s deputy mayor, Markus Schnapka, commented there were past incidents which justified the decision:

“There have been complaints of sexual harrassment and chatting-up going on in the swimming pool…by groups of young men, and this has prompted some women to leave [the premises].”

Other measures included setting up education classes for migrant men to teach them about gender equality and respect for women. On January this year, the German parliament approved new ID cards for migrants, which will include information about: country of origin, finger prints, contact, qualifications and health status. Recepients will be eligible to welfare and benefits. This initiative is a way for authorities to have access to data in a centralised system, and for security reasons.

Pressure is on Angela Merkel

German migrants came out to condemn the perpetrators of the Cologne attacks. Migrant men handed out flowers, showing the German public they support gender equality. Others held out signs in English, while musicians played songs to condemn sexism. One man said: “I am looking at all of you as a human being. Me as a Syrian. Me as a human being. I’m not afraid to say it loudly: Those criminals should be punished harshly by the German law.”

But this is not enough to appease critics. Since the sex attacks, Merkel is under immense pressure from the German parliament who are waiting for her answer to do something about EU’s migrant. Support for Merkel also fell; only 39% of people believe the Chancellor is doing a “good job” in handling the refugee crisis.

51sth Munich Security Conference 2015: Dr Angela Merkel by Tobias Kleinschmidt - Licensed under Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

51sth Munich Security Conference 2015: Dr Angela Merkel by Tobias Kleinschmidt – Licensed under Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

According to the German publication, Spiegel, Merkel is also expected to do something about the country’s security. The Chancellor even faces pressure from other EU leaders who expect her to conjure a solution to the migrant crisis entering their borders. A member of the Chancellor’s Christian Democrat Party, Armin Schuster, said: “We must finally begin to effectively register the refugees.” Another said, “We can’t keep quiet about the uncomfortable truths”.

Merkel also has a mission to redeem Germany’s image as the country has had a spate of  a reputation of racism and discrimination towards migrants. According to World Socialist Web Site, in the 1990s the country expelled 100,00 Bosnians who had fled the Yugoslavian wars. There were other high-profile cases like the German professor, Annette Beck-Sickinger from the University of Leipzig, who rejected an Indian student’s application to the university because of the “rape problem” in India. Spiegel also did a series of interviews with migrants or people from diverse backgrounds, about their experiences of racism.

Since the Paris Attacks and Cologne Attacks, the once popular Chancellor has lost much support on her open-door policy.  What was an attempt to help migrants and enrich Germany’s society has taken a bad turn. Credit goes to Merkel for handling the economic crisis, so EU leaders expect the Chancellor to do something about the migrant crisis. The fate of immigration to Germany also hangs on the balance, and the heightened discrimination and criticism of immigration reveals the level of acceptance and tolerance of German society.


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Hsin-Yi Lo

Hsin-Yi Lo

I am freelance journalist and writer, and a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Kent. I am originally from Melbourne, Australia.