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Police fight rumours they hide truth on refugees

German police are increasingly having to deal with rumours that they are covering up sex crimes committed by refugees, but public trust in law enforcement is holding firm.

Police fight rumours they hide truth on refugees
"Chinese Whispers is no game for adults." Source: Bavarian Police

In Berlin police have denied a story spread on social media that a 13-year-old girl was abducted and raped by refugees and that police subsequently tried to cover the incident up.

A Russian television channel reported that the girl was taken into sexual captivity for days and that police had tried to suppress it from going public. The report then spread quickly through German social media.

But in a press release published on Tuesday police in the capital said their investigations showed that, while the girl had gone missing for a short time, she was neither abducted nor raped.

Police in Bavaria, meanwhile, have started a social media campaign to discourage people from sharing rumours on social media without checking up on the truth of them first, after a post claiming a police-cover up of a sexual assault by a refugee went viral.

The original comment read: “Share, share, share… A refugee committed a rape in Traunstein… the police 'your friend and helper’ are staying quiet and aren’t telling the general public anything!!… Information from a trusted source!!!”

Local media brought the post to the police’s attention, leading to an investigation which took two days and involved eight interviews.

Eventually it turned out the rumour was related to a sexual assault which had taken place in a neighbouring town on New Year, and which had been fully reported by police.

“Chinese whispers [or telephone] is no game for adults”, police warn, saying that “a fact turns into a half truth and finally into unsustainable rumour”.

“The same is true of us as always has been: we report neutrally, transparently and actively about criminality – that is, was, and will remain the case – no matter what some so-called 'trusted source' claims,” the police wrote.

Growing sense of fear

Police warnings of this sort are nothing new. In October 2015 police in Saxony reported that “rumours have been spreading uncontrollably over the internet in the last few weeks.”

Without mentioning what specifically the rumours related to, police in the east German state warned that spreading hearsay over social media without checking the facts was creating hysteria, and “exactly that is what those who create the rumours want.”

German media have previously reported that right wing organizations such as Pegida or the Alternative for Germany (AfD) have been spreading stories on social media since the summer claiming a wave of sexual assaults by refugees that have little to no basis in fact.

But since police in Cologne were slow to report publicly that there had been a string of mass sexual assaults over New Year in the city centre, anxiety about public safety and a lack of faith in the police's ability to protect has entered the mainstream.

Former Cologne police chief Wolfgang Albers. Photo: DPA

Seven in ten people believe that the Cologne police did a bad job during New Year and the following days, while there was even less trust in the work of their boss Wolfgang Albers, who was forced into retirement in the fallout.

This has led to a clear erosion of confidence in public safety.

Around a third of the public would rather now avoid large masses of people – for women the number was 37 percent – with 82 percent saying they wanted more CCTV in public spaces, a poll by public broadcaster ARD published on January 7th showed. 

Meanwhile nine in every ten Germans now want to see more police on the streets, a YouGov poll shows.

“It shows that a real fear exists at the moment. There is a huge amount of interest in seeing a greater police presence,” Holger Geißler from YouGov told The Local.

Police still trusted

But despite all this, public trust in the law enforcement is staying surprisingly strong.

The poll actually shows an improvement on 2015, with 69 percent of respondents saying they see the police as their 'friend and helper', as opposed to 54 percent last year.

“People still trust the police, but believe that there were not enough personnel in Cologne at New Year to deal with the problem,” Geißler explains.

Police outside Cologne cathedral in early January. Photo: DPA

“One would expect to see a loss in trust, but there is no evidence for it in out data.”

But the pollster also believes that there is a recognition among the authorities that trying to hide facts on crimes committed by immigrants is counter-productive

The the firing of Cologne police chief Wolfgang Albers and his press secretary were a sign that massaging the facts is now seen as outdated, Geißler argues.

“We've probably reached the high point of political correctness,” he concludes.

For members

IMMIGRATION

What Germany’s plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

To tackle its ever-widening skills gap, Germany wants to encourage talent from aboard to move to the country by introducing a points-based immigration system. Here's what foreigners need to know about the changes.

What Germany's plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

What’s a points-based system?

A points-based system is an immigration model where foreigners have to score above a certain threshold of points in order to obtain a residence or work permit in a country. The exact scoring system is set by the government, but can include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account. 

Points-based systems can also be known as “merit-based systems”, because there tends to be a pretty big emphasis on what you can offer a country in terms of education or skills. 

The model was first introduced in Canada way back in 1967 as the country tried to move past a system based on race and nationality to one that favoured language fluency, youth and educational or vocational background. A similar step was taken in Australia just a few years later in 1972 and, since Brexit, the UK has also introduced its own points-based model. 

How does this relate to Germany?

When the new ‘traffic-light’ coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) took office last December, the parties pledged to reform Germany’s immigration system and bring a fresh cohort of workers into the country.

“In addition to the existing immigration law, we will establish a second pillar with the introduction of an opportunity card based on a points system to enable workers to gain controlled access to the German labour market in order to find a job,” the coalition agreement read.

This would apply to third-country nationals who don’t otherwise have the right to live and work in the country. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s new government means for citizenship and naturalisation

German language course poster

A sign advertising German courses. Language skills can count towards points in a points-based system. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

FDP migration specialist Dr. Ann-Veruschka Jurisch, who is working on these reforms, says the policy is driven by Germany’s desperate need for workers. 

“The Liberal Party (FDP) is convinced that we need more labour migration,” she told The Local. “We do have a lot of options for coming into Germany as a labour migrant – but it’s a bit complicated – and if you want to come to Germany to search for a job and you don’t come from an EU country, it’s much more difficult.”

That’s why the coalition is aiming to offer a second route for people who don’t have job lined up in Germany, but who otherwise have the skills or talent to find one. 

What will this look like?

The plans for the points-based system are still at an early stage, so the exact criteria haven’t been worked out yet.

What’s clear at this stage, however, is that the points-based option would run parallel to the current model, which generally permits people with a concrete job offer in a skilled profession to come and work in the country. 

“It’s about (people having) a good opportunity to come to Germany when they have either a job offer in sight or a direct job offer,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said in response to parliamentary question in January. 

“Next to that, we want to achieve a further possibility for talent – for qualified men and women whose skills we need in Germany, who still don’t have a work contract but, if given access, could use that opportunity. That’s what we’re talking about with this Canadian points-based system. It shouldn’t replace our current system, but rather improve it.”

In short, that means that people with a job lined up won’t be disadvantaged – but there will be alternative routes for those without them. It also won’t affect the EU blue card scheme

READ ALSO: ‘I finally feel at home’: How Germany’s planned changes to citizenship laws affect foreigners

Will people need formal qualifications? 

Probably not – though it will obviously depend on the sector someone works in and their level of experience in their chosen field.

“I personally am convinced that you shouldn’t place too much emphasis on formal qualifications, because it’s very complicated getting your formal qualifications recognised in Germany,” said Jurisch.

“A medical doctor, for example, is one where you can’t say, ‘Okay, you’ve got some experience so we don’t need to see your papers.’ But there are a lot of other jobs which do not have this restriction and they are not formalised but rather based on practical experience.”

Carpenter wood

A carpenter sands down a block of wood in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

The issue of recognising qualifications is also a problem that the traffic-light coalition has set their sights on solving during their time in office.

At the moment, the process of getting qualifications officially recognised in Germany is done on a state-by-state basis, so somebody who gets their degree recognised in Brandenburg may have to redo the entire process again in Bavaria, for instance.

According to Jurisch, there have already been conversations between the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education on the issue, and Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has also promised to take steps to solve it.

But, she said, it’s complicated: “I’ve started to dive into this issue, and the more I dive into it, the more complicated it becomes – so there are no silver bullets.” 

How many workers are needed – and where? 

In order to plug its labour shortages, Germany needs around 400,000 new workers every year, according to the Federal Employment Agency. In 2020, Germany’s net migration was just 200,000 and 150,000 people of working age entered retirement – which means the country is currently falling well short of its targets. 

“We have shortages everywhere,” Jurisch said. “We need 400,000 new workers every year, and these people won’t be born in Germany – or if they are, they won’t grow up for another 20 years.

“We haven’t managed to get more women into the labour market, or they work part time, so I don’t think this will make a big difference, and I don’t think we will close the gap by training people.”

In this sense, it seems that immigration is the only option for filling major staff shortages in almost every profession. 

“Whoever I talk to, be it nurses, nannies, IT workers, industrial workers, teachers, lawyers – everywhere we have a shortage,” Jurisch said.

staff shortages Germany

A sign outside a restaurant informs customers of a closure due to staff shortages. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

When will the points-based system be introduced?

Unlike with the plans to reform citizenship, which the SDP-led Interior Ministry wants to achieve by the end of the year, there’s no firm timeline in place for the points-based system.

However, the FDP is fighting for the policy to be given higher priority and would like to introduce the new visa system before the next federal election in 2025. 

“I hope it will be done in this legislative period,” said Jurisch. “I’m pushing to get it a little bit higher up on the agenda.” 

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: ‘Changing German citizenship laws is a priority’

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