Opinion: In 2016 Germany woke up to the hard reality of the refugee influx

Jörg Luyken
Jörg Luyken - [email protected] • 28 Dec, 2016 Updated Wed 28 Dec 2016 09:03 CEST
image alt text

In 2015 hundreds of thousands of Germans gave their time, money and possessions to help people fleeing war. This year they were shaken by the dark side of the refugee influx, argues Jörg Luyken.


They called it the summer fairy tale.

As tens of thousands of refugees poured over the border every day in September 2015, Germany felt its most glorious moment of redemption in the eyes of the world since 1945.

At Munich's main train station, volunteers waited to help Syrian families who had fled the horrors of Aleppo. 

Merkel and her cabinet posed for selfies with refugees and the media joyously republished them.

No one likes being the bad guy. And Germany had spent most of the summer being just that, demanding that impoverished Greece start paying up its debts to the rest of the Eurozone.

Now Germany was there for the downtrodden while the rest of the world looked on apathetically.

But behind the headlines the public was always more dubious. Polling showed increased disquiet through the autumn, as refugee arrivals grew and grew.

The turn of the year was the day which flicked the switch on the public mood, though.

Sexual assaults in Cologne, Hamburg and other cities at New Year went unreported at first, as panicked state authorities did not know how to handle mounting evidence they were carried out by North African migrants.

But as news of the assaults emerged via social media this mishandling of the information only added to the scandal. The country had been reassured that asylum seekers, grateful for the protection, would be obedient to German law.

Now crimes were emerging on a scale that was completely unheard of in Germany, and state authorities and the media, seemed to be covering them up.

The government warned people not to cast blame on all refugees, while announcing tougher asylum laws that resulted in thousands of Syrians being split from their families for years.

As the months ticked by stories about sexual harassment and assault kept making headlines.

A report that 30 asylum seekers harassed two teenage girls in Kiel, was followed by an outdoor festival in Hesse, where women reported being encircled and groped by young "Asian looking" men.

In the last few weeks of the year asylum seekers were again repeatedly linked to violent sexual assault in news reports.

In Freiburg a young Afghan man was arrested on a rape-murder charge in November. Days later in Bochum an Iraqi man was arrested on suspicion of the rape and attempted rape of two Chinese students.

This month in Hamburg a Moroccan who should have already been deported was arrested on suspicion of raping a woman in a club toilet. In Meinigen, an Afghan asylum seeker was arrested for the rape of a 14-year-old girl.

In Berlin, the trial of a Pakistani asylum seeker started last week. He is accused of one count of rape and five counts of sexual assault.

The government's response has been to say that rape existed in Germany before refugees arrived. The German public responded by buying pepper spray, blank-shooting guns and anti-rape alarms.

The other thread weaving its way through the news narrative in 2016 was terrorism, or its potential. And again this started on the very first day of the year.

Before news of sexual assaults in Cologne broke, the big story of January 1st was that police had shut down New Year celebrations in central Munich on security fears. But whether there was a substantial threat has never been resolved.

By February 4th the first terror arrests had been made. Police swooped on a 35-year-old Algerian living in a refugee centre in North Rhine-Westphalia. Prosecutors described him as the ringleader of a plot to attack Berlin.

More arrests took place. More worrying claims of brutal attack plots.

Random acts of violence by psychologically disturbed individuals immediately led to rumours swirling on social media of terrorist motives.

Then on July 18th an Afghan teenager entered a regional train in Bavaria wielding an axe and began attacking passengers. He brutalized a family of Chinese holidaymakers before making off into the night and dying in police gunfire.

Police soon found an Isis flag in his home, and the terror group followed up by publishing a video of the young asylum seeker threatening unbelievers.

Six days later in nearby Ansbach a Syrian man attempted to enter a music festival carrying a rucksack packed with explosives.

But, at the sight of security guards he lost his nerve and blew it up next to a cafe. He was the only fatality, but a newspaper report suggested he used the same highly explosive material as that used by bombers in Brussels a few months earlier.

Again Isis released a video which linked him to the attack. The Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that an Isis operative had guided him throughout his failed terror attempt.

August and September were quiet. But it wouldn't last. October saw the first full scale manhunt of the year, as a Syrian refugee suspected of planning an Isis bomb plot escaped the clutches of police.

He was eventually grabbed by some countrymen, but was able to commit suicide in jail, to the outrage of Germany's justice officials.

Isis had managed to save their most deadly terrorist for last, though.

The attack on a Berlin Christmas market on December 19th, almost certainly carried out by a radicalized Tunisian man who arrived in Germany as a asylum seeker in 2015, killed 12 people and injured dozens more.

After four tense days with the attacker on the run and armed, he was finally killed in Italy.

Merkel's response has been to say that terrorism isn't a new phenomenon. Her government has told people to carry on with their every day lives, otherwise the terrorists will win.

The response of the German public has been to start avoiding big crowds and to start voting for the far-right Alternative for Germany.



Jörg Luyken 2016/12/28 09:03

Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also