Police in Cologne, Germany, wanted to avoid a repeat of last year’s New Year’s Eve celebration in the city when there were dozens of robberies and sexual assaults largely committed by migrants.
Residents bitterly complained over a lack of police presence during the migrant crime spree in 2016, so authorities decided to question and detain hundreds of newcomers of North African origin.
The men had gathered late Saturday at Cologne’s main train station and in the Deutz district, across the Rhine river. In an overnight tweet, police had described them as being “seemingly of African descent,” prompting online criticism that people were being detained based on their appearance alone.
“I reject this negative criticism,” Police Chief Juergen Mathies told reporters. “The clear aim was to prevent similar events to previous year.”
Hundreds of people were robbed and sexually assaulted during New Year’s celebrations in Cologne last year. The crimes were blamed largely on men of North African origin who had taken advantage of chaotic and crowded scenes around the city’s cathedral.
Mathies said he had instructed officers to intervene sooner this year. Of the 650 people detained for identity checks, almost all were from North African countries, he said.
“Their characteristics were such that potential crimes could indeed be expected,” he added, without elaborating,
About 100 people in all were arrested overnight, while authorities logged about 160 crimes that included almost a dozen assaults or insults of a sexual nature, police said.
Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker said she was “happy and relieved” that the night had passed fairly uneventfully. About 50,000 people rang in the new year in front of Cologne Cathedral, officials said.
Anti-immigration groups seized upon last year’s assaults to criticize the government, although police noted that very few suspects came from the same countries as the majority of migrants who arrived in Germany during the previous two years.
Chancellor Merkel said in a New Year’s statement that the previous year had been filled with “severe tests” and she found it “sickening” that migrants who had been welcomed by Germans would turn to terrorism.
As we go about our lives and our work, we are saying to the terrorists: ‘You are hate-filled murderers, but you do not determine how we live and want to live. We are free, considerate and open’,” Mrs Merkel said.
She also said that terrorism was the “biggest threat” facing Germany, although she refused to apologize for her open-door policy that’s responsible for so much of it.
Authorities in Cologne are right to deny racial profiling — even though that’s exactly what they did. The fact is, almost all of those attacks last year were carried out by men of Arab descent and many were new arrivals. To deny that basic fact would have been suicidal.