Sexual Attacks Widen Divisions in European Migrant Crisis
The far-right group Legida held an “anti-Islamization” march in Leipzig, Germany, on Monday. Credit Jens Schlueter/Getty Images
By JIM YARDLEY, NYT
JAN. 13, 2016
ROME — In Finland, militia groups are patrolling small towns housing asylum seekers in the name of protecting white Finnish women. In Germany, far-right protesters rampaged through Leipzig on Monday, vandalizing buildings in an “anti-Islamization” demonstration. In Italy on Tuesday, an anti-immigration regional government approved the text of a law making it difficult to construct new mosques as Muslim refugees are settled in the area.
Across Europe, the migrant crisis that has engulfed the Continent since the summer is provoking new levels of public anxiety after the New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, where witnesses and the police described predatory gangs of mostly foreign men, including some refugees, groping and robbing young women. The Cologne police are also investigating allegations of rape.
While the police say the assaults in Cologne were carried out by hundreds of men, even that is a narrow sliver of the more than one million asylum seekers who entered Europe last year. Still, the anxieties provoked by the Cologne attacks quickly spread as reports emerged of similar New Year’s Eve assaults in other German cities, as well as in Finland and Austria.
While the details in some of those reports are sketchy, and none approach what happened in Cologne, they have touched an exceptionally raw nerve as European societies face the challenge of integrating and acculturating the asylum seekers, most of them Muslims, and a majority of those single men.
Far-right political parties, which have long invoked hoary stereotypes of dark-skinned foreigners threatening European identity and security, have pounced on the reports, having already capitalized on the inability of the European Union to secure its external borders while efficiently managing the movement of migrants inside the bloc.