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Cologne Attacks Intensify Migrant Crisis Conversation

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Revelations that refugees in Germany took part in sexually assaulting and robbing hundreds of women on New Year's Eve in Cologne sparked violent protests in that western German city yesterday. In response to the growing public outcry, German officials announced they will scale back what has been an open arms policy towards refugees. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin joins us now for the latest.

Soraya, there are now 379 victim complaints from that night in Cologne, I understand, many of them alleging molestation or worse. Have there been any arrests?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Not a single one. But police are saying that at least 22 migrants seeking asylum are being sought as suspects. Some of these were identified by video. Others were actually stopped by police on that night in the square in Cologne and then they were questioned and let go. Police say that the foreign suspects were mainly from Algeria and Morocco and that they have yet to identify 44 other assailants.

MARTIN: There also appears to be a German connection to an assault last week by a man carrying a knife - wielding a knife around a Paris police station. This happened on the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. What can you tell us about that?

NELSON: Yes, that man, who was shot dead - he was also wearing a fake explosives vest. Turns out that he had an apartment in a building that houses asylum-seekers in a western German city called Recklinghausen. Police raided that apartment yesterday, and French officials say that he also had a phone with a German SIM card. But there doesn't seem to be any connection at this point - or any threat of further attacks, at least at this stage, according to German police.

MARTIN: All of this has fueled debate about Germany's relatively liberal policy when it comes to welcoming migrants into the country. Now, Chancellor Angela Merkel's has tried to tighten the asylum laws in response to these attacks. What's her plan?

NELSON: Well, she wants to see asylum-seekers who are convicted of a crime, who are on probation or in prison be booted out of Germany. Right now, only foreigners who are convicted and sentenced to at least three years or more than three years are actually deported - and only then if their expulsion doesn't endanger their lives. But under this new law, all of them would go.

The problem is it's not just that it has to still be approved by the Parliament, which will - may or may not go along with this. But even if they do - how do they actually get rid of these people? - because a lot of them don't have documents or they're coming from countries that they can't be deported to because of war and other things. And there aren't a whole lot of countries who are willing to take back any asylum-seekers as-is, if they're not citizens of their own country.

MARTIN: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson talking to us from Berlin. Thanks so much, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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