German police have been accused of covering up claims of sexual assault and harassment during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne in a bid to prevent the public from blaming refugees.
The German city is reeling after 1,000 ‘Arab or North African’ men were accused of sexually violating dozens of women near Cologne’s main train station and its famous cathedral.
During a news conference, Cologne’s Police Chief Wolfgang Albers confirmed that about “1,000 young” men who appeared to be from “the Arab or North African region” molested, groped, robbed and even raped dozens of women.
Cologne’s police, however, have been accused of covering up the attacks, with details emerging days after the incidents occurred. One police officer, who remained anonymous, told a Cologne-based news website that eight suspects he had detained “were all asylum seekers.” However, the government has refused to confirm such claims.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has meanwhile lashed out at the failure of police to prevent the attacks and described her “outrage over these disgusting attacks and sexual assaults.” Chancellor Merkel added that police must act to identify the perpetrators and punish them “regardless of their origin or background.”
Merkel’s comments came after hundreds of women demonstrated against the attacks in cologne, urging the government to do more.
According to a German newspaper, which published leaked official police transcripts from the events during New Year’s Eve, at least 15 of the attackers are said to be of “Afghan and Syrian” origin, all carrying refugee papers.
Meanwhile, one 28-year-old woman, describing her ordeal to Cologne-based news website Express, said that she had been attacked by men with “foreign appearances”.
“It was horrible. Although we screamed and flailed about, the guys didn’t stop. I was beside myself and think that I was touched about 100 times across around 200 meters,” said the woman, identified only as Katja L..
Meanwhile, the BBC reports that a 15-year-old girl and her mother were surrounded by a large crowd before being groped “between their legs”.
Another woman told the BBC that she was attacked with fireworks before being groped and robbed by men who “spoke neither German nor English”.
In response to the attacks, Cologne’s Mayor said it was important to prevent such incidents from happening again. However, the mayor, Henriette Reker, has been criticized for saying women should adopt a “code of conduct” that would include “staying an arm’s length away from strangers”, remaining with your own group, and asking bystanders for help. The mayor was strongly criticized by those who feel her comments constitute victim-blaming.
According to the Times, Cologne received nearly 10,000 refugees last year. There are fears that the recent incident will increase animosity towards genuine refugees and asylum seekers.