Sex Attacks Inflame Germany’s Great Divide over Refugees

Right-wing activists protest in Leipzig on Monday against Germany's open-door refugee policy. (Jens Schlueter/Getty Images)

It was nine days after the now-infamous New Year’s Eve “sex attacks” in Cologne, allegedly perpetrated by a mob of North African and Arab refugees, when Ramy Alasheq realized that his adopted new home might never be the same.

For the 26-year-old Syrian-Palestinian refugee, poet and journalist, who edits an Arabic newspaper for refugees called Doors (as in, opening doors to refugees), the moment came when he and a German friend were walking along a busy street in the centre of Cologne. “A man we saw bumped into a woman on the street,” he says. “He said to her, ‘I’m sorry and don’t worry – I’m German.’”

Mr. Alasheq, who arrived in Germany in late 2014, and his friend were taken aback by the blatantly racist reference to the ugly New Year’s events. “I was more than shocked; I was saddened too,” he says. “Cologne is my city now and the voices of the right will only get louder.”

Two weeks after the assaults, Cologne, Germany’s fourth-largest city, remains on edge. While street life is back to normal, albeit with a beefed-up police presence, Germans of every political leaning and age are wondering if Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugees-welcome policy, which saw about 1.1 million asylum seekers arrive in Germany in 2015, almost half of them Syrians, has gone a little bit too far or way too far.