Home >news >world >Angela Merkel says Cologne attacks expose challenge of migrant influx

Mainz, Germany: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the “repugnant and criminal" sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne and other cities lay bare the challenge of the nation’s refugee crisis as her party called for lowering the barriers to the expulsion of migrants who commit crimes.

“The events of New Year’s Eve have dramatically exposed the challenge we’re facing, revealing a new facet that we haven’t yet seen," Merkel told reporters on Saturday in the western city of Mainz after a two-day meeting of leaders of her Christian Democratic Union.

A week after scores of women celebrating in Cologne reported being sexually assaulted as they passed through a group of 1,000 men in front of the city’s main train station, Germany’s debate about welcoming more than a million refugees has been compounded as Merkel prepares her party for three state elections in March.

Authorities identified at least 18 asylum seekers among the men who allegedly attacked and robbed women at the foot of Cologne’s iconic Gothic cathedral on 31 December and 1 January. More than 120 women filed sexual-assault complaints with police, including two cases of rape. Police in Hamburg received sexual harassment complaints from 70 women.

With Cologne police describing the crowd as mostly men of “North African or Arabic" origin, the incident has escalated the refugee crisis that Merkel has called the most complex challenge of her 10-year chancellorship.

Merkel told a CDU gathering Friday that asylum seekers who commit such acts may “forfeit their right to hospitality here," drawing cheers from the crowd. Party leaders adopted language that would lower the barrier for deporting refugees who violate the law.

Standing next to Julia Kloeckner, the party’s candidate to reassert a CDU-led government in the state of Rhineland- Palatinate, Merkel said leaders meeting at the retreat on the Rhine river stood by her position from last month’s party congress on refugees, including the rejection of a limit on migrants.

After Germany took in some 1.1 million refugees in 2015, the German leader said her objective remains to “noticeably reduce" the influx this year, primarily by addressing the root causes, including the civil war in Syria, and seeking an agreement by Turkey to help protect the European Union’s external border.

The Turkish government has undertaken a number of measures, though efforts to scale back illegal migration over the waters of the Aegean Sea to Greece were “not yet satisfactory," Merkel said.

In addition to ruling out an upper limit on migrants, Merkel also ruled out a timeframe for a possible reduction on Saturday. Bloomberg

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