North African migrants bear the brunt of Europe’s suspicions
London - North Africans are facing increasing scrutiny in Europe following a string of attacks allegedly carried out by migrants. Several European countries are seeking to clamp down on asylum seekers from Maghreb countries amid a continent-wide migrant crisis.
This comes after incidents in Cologne, Germany, where hundreds of migrants, mainly of North African origin, were accused of attacking and groping women during New Year’s Eve celebrations. Other incidents involving North African migrants were reported in other parts of Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Sweden.
Cologne police said they received 652 complaints, including 331 allegations of sexual violence, over the New Year’s Eve attacks. Cologne public prosecutor Ulrich Bremer subsequently revealed that of 58 arrests made in connection with the Cologne attacks, only three refugees were arrested (two Syrians and an Iraqi). The majority of those arrested were not refugees but rather migrants or second-generation immigrants, including 25 suspects of Algerian descent, 21 of Moroccan descent and three of Tunisian descent while three others were German.
A number of European countries issued warnings, specifically to women, to be wary of the threat of sexual assault by migrants. Ahead of the Cologne carnival, police issued leaflets in a number of languages, including Arabic, warning refugees not to drink too much or sexually assault women. Police also warned against the threat of reprisal attacks against migrants, as the general attitude towards them, wherever they come from, in Europe worsens.
While the bulk of asylum seekers in Europe come from Syria and Afghanistan, there has been a spike in the number of migrants from North Africa, particularly Algeria and Morocco. Germany’s Interior Ministry said that in June 2015 the combined arrival figures for asylum seekers from the two countries was less than 1,000 but in December 2,300 Algerians and 2,900 Moroccans claimed asylum in Germany.
Statistically relatively few Moroccans and Algerians have their asylum claims accepted but the process takes many months and many failed asylum seekers remain in Germany and other European countries amid criticism of the repatriation process.
Germany has moved to designate Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco as “safe countries of origin”, which would mean that citizens from those countries are not eligible for asylum. Berlin tightened its immigration conditions by adding West Balkan states — Albania, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia — to the safe countries list.
Berlin also threatened to cut development aid to North African states if they refuse to repatriate failed asylum seekers. “We have a repatriation agreement. That means everything is regulated on paper but, in practice, we know that it remains problematic in some cases. That must be dealt with so that the agreement can be put into action,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
Alleged crimes by North African migrants have increased European fears, although it is unclear whether crimes are actually on the rise or if more incidents are being reported.
The anti-Islamic Pegida movement has used the Cologne New Year’s Eve attacks and others to rally support, with tens of thousands taking to the streets across 14 European countries on February 6th to protest immigration.
There have been reports of North African migrants targeting other refugees. “They’ll sit next to the Syrian refugees in the waiting room and then steal their stuff,” one volunteer at the Cologne main railway station told Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
However, questions have been raised as to whether the suspects are even really North African, with most Europeans likely to struggle to distinguish Arabic from other foreign languages, let alone identify North African dialects.
Following significant criticism in the media towards North African migrants, ministers from the region questioned whether the asylum seekers in question were even from the Maghreb or were merely using the general suspicion towards North Africa as a convenient scapegoat.
“There are asylum seekers in Europe who destroy their identity documents and once they are arrested by police, they pretend to be Tunisians even though they are not,” a Tunisian Foreign Ministry official told a German English-language news website.
“The state has to ensure that the migrants are really Tunisians. Sometimes these checks take time,” the official added.