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Attacks In Germany Raise Questions About Accepting Migrants


We are learning more about a series of ugly attacks on New Year's Eve in Germany. The worst was in the city of Cologne right in the middle of New Year's celebrations. Women were attacked, sexually assaulted, robbed by groups of men. There are migrants in Cologne from countries like Syria and Iraq, and police believe some of them may have been involved among the attackers. And this has brought Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door policy under fire. To talk more about this, we're joined by journalist Maximilian Popp, who's in Berlin. Good morning.

MAXIMILIAN POPP: Good morning, and thanks for having me.

GREENE: Well, thanks for coming on. I want to be really, really careful here. I mean, is this a case, perhaps, of people, you know, pointing some blame at an immigrant community? Are their charges now coming from police? What exactly do we know at this point?

POPP: Well, as you said, I mean, it's still - like, it's more than a week now since the events. But it's still kind of unclear what really happened, who the people responsible for this really are. But what we know so far is that there have been massive attacks and that there have been asylum-seekers within this group. This has been - this has been confirmed by the police. We're not sure about the numbers. So far there have been 500 criminal charges filed. They have 30 suspects. And - but about their background, their status, for how long they are in Germany, through which way they came to the country, all this is still very unclear. So it's important to be careful and not to, like, make things more hysteric than they are.

GREENE: So you gave some numbers there that sound pretty stunning. But do we know how many of those charged, suspected, would be these asylum-seekers and how many might be - might not?

POPP: Well, from the 30 people - from the 30 suspects so far, we know about 18 people who are asylum-seekers, mostly, though, from northern African countries, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria. There is only one Syrian among them. This is the people of whom we know so far. But I think what we can guess and how it looks like, that these are people who are not, like, asylum-seekers, refugees who came recently to the country, but that these are more criminal gangs who have been active in Cologne before the New Year's events and that they have already some sort of criminal record and now doing it, like, bringing the whole thing to a new extent. But yeah... Yeah.

GREENE: Well, what has been the reaction to this so far?

POPP: Well, the reaction is huge. And it's really like - it really seems to be, like, a defining moment now in the whole debate because obviously those who are skeptic about, like, the migration policy of Angela Merkel that has been open, that has been welcoming, those skeptics seem like they think that their fears and their stereotypes are confirmed now. And so they are really pushing for a stricter policy. And the government is getting under pressure because all the things that have been said - wrongly been said, partly - about them, about migrants, refugees seem to become reality now. And that really is - has an awful effect on the whole debate because it's getting really out of proportion. It's getting really irrational. And it seems that it has the potential to really change politics in Germany.

GREENE: All right, we've been speaking with journalist Maximilian Popp, talking to us from Berlin. Maximilian, thanks very much.

POPP: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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