Immorality in Europe’s Treatment of Refugees and the Racist Stink from Cologne

‘None of the asylum seekers was suspected of committing sexual assaults’.

One line, easily glanced over, cuts through the anti-immigration fervour that surrounds the mass assault of women in Cologne. The widespread emphasis placed on reports that asylum seekers were identified amongst the aggressors, has led to the assumption that these individuals were undoubtedly guilty and has further intensified fierce protests against Angela Merkel’s open-door policy. This has had wider repercussions for the rest of Europe, as political leaders pushing for greater controls on the flow of refugees entering their country, have seized on this interpretation to support their nationalistic political agendas.

However, these unfounded assumptions have been based on a worrying lack of facts and much opinion - a bit like one’s choice of cologne. If ever the media needs evidence to support comment, surely it is now, as fears of foreign refugees foster an increasingly xenophobic Europe. The reality we are actually facing is that ‘no one - and that includes the police - really knows what happened’. Out of the 31 suspects, 18 have been identified as immigrants, but this statistic fails to support the argument for tightening Germany’s borders, since no links have yet been established between these individuals and the current refugee crisis. For all we know, these ‘immigrants’ may have lived in Germany for years, or indeed have been born and bred in the country, such is the ambiguity of the term.

Europe’s reaction to the events in Cologne also reveal an embarrassing case of double standards

The frenzied response to the attacks with urgent calls for an intervention by the German government perfectly crystalizes the racist attitudes that prevail in Europe today. To help detangle the socio-cultural factors underpinning this terrible incident, a clearer, more evidence-based narrative is desperately needed. One journalist condemned the ‘neuralgic resistance to identifying these men as migrants’, but the delay in communicating news to the public was a wise and necessary approach considering the lack of available information. Although there is a clear incentive to inform the public about important events in a timely fashion, rash disclosure of vague details only encourages scaremongering among a population leaning towards Islamophobia.

Europe’s reaction to the events in Cologne also reveal an embarrassing case of double standards. Whilst complaints flood the newspapers about the initial dearth of media coverage on the Cologne attacks, not a whisper has been uttered about the daily abuse of refugees in Europe. For example, the French riot police who patrol the borders of Calais’ ‘jungle’ have been employing a level of brutality easily comparable to the violence experienced in Cologne: the heart-breaking account of a young girl whose limbs were broken by the police whilst attempting the Channel crossing; as well as the handfuls of men who are wounded nightly along this route have received no media attention. Of course, the physical and sexual assaults in Cologne can by no means be excused, but the West is nevertheless in no position to assert a moral superiority, due to its complicity in similarly egregious crimes.

It is time that we re-examined our dichotomous, frankly prejudiced approach to the current refugee crisis

The newly-drafted deportation rules, endorsed by Merkel, also wreak of duplicity. Deportation is now legitimized if migrants are judged to have damaged property, but paradoxically, the British and French governments are simultaneously going ahead with plans to bulldoze a 100-metre strip in the Calais jungle, which accommodates over 1000 people. More than simply damaging the refugees’ property, inhabitants are given no opportunity to retrieve the few valuable possessions on which their livelihoods depend. Furthermore, any ‘rescue’ attempts are rendered futile by the gratuitous use of tear gas by the police. Yes, their flimsy tents can be replaced by charitable donations, but their photographs of loved ones, identity cards and documents that hold the promise for a more stable future in Europe, have been scooped up and buried in a muddy pit of excrement and rubbish. Furthermore, Denmark’s proposals to strip newly arrived immigrants of their valuables in order to compensate for the state benefits they may not even receive, provides an ironic echo of the women robbed during the Cologne attacks.  

The introduction of such intrusive new measures highlights the increasing lack of morality underlying Europe’s approach to immigration. There is also reason to fear that Merkel’s hitherto liberal approach to the refugee crisis will soon be tarnished with a similarly nativistic brush. As Germans become increasingly dissatisfied with Merkel’s handling of the migrant crisis, it seems that her immigration policies will need tweaking if she is to stand as a credible candidate in the upcoming democratic elections in 2017.

It is time that we re-examined our dichotomous, frankly prejudiced approach to the current refugee crisis and our presumptions about the Islamic culture based on a code of honour and shame. Rather than self-assuredly asserting our own moral superiority as the West and pre-judging the diverse cultural backgrounds of our human counterparts, we will need a clear and open narrative over the coming months to stem the international contagion of xenophobia.

Hannah Beard

More about the author

About the author

Hannah is currently doing a Masters in International Relations and has a French and Spanish undergraduate degree from Oxford University. She has done various work placements abroad, such as in a Peruvian Human Rights NGO and a language school in France. As well as writing, she hopes to pursue a career as an academic researcher for an international think tank.

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