North African migrants bear the brunt of Europe’s suspicions

Friday 04/03/2016
A refugee from Morocco holds flowers in his hand in front of a refugee camp in Cologne, on January 22nd.

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.