New Year’s violence in Germany sparks debate on integration of immigrants

The events on New Year’s Eve, which saw dramatic scenes of burning streets and people firing blank pistols as fireworks, stones and bottles were thrown at police and emergency services, revived the debate on an extended ban on the sale of fireworks. Police and firefighters spoke of unprecedented violence against them, calling for better protection and tougher policies to limit and control immigration.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) urged a tough response against the perpetrators, but opposed stoking xenophobic sentiment, tweeting: “We must show the limits to the violent who refuse to integrate into our cities, with a firm hand and clear language, but without stoking racist resentment. Those who exploit the necessary debate to exclude do not solve the problem, but intensify it.”

The Berlin Police Department said that of the 145 people arrested in connection with the violent acts, 139 were men, two-thirds were under 25 years of age and 27 were minors. Of the 145 detainees, 45 were German, 27 Afghan and 21 Syrian.

It was noted by many that, while many of those arrested had an immigrant background, they were not a single homogeneous group and did not necessarily represent those who participated in the violent acts. Professor of Psychology at the Chemnitz University of Technology, Frank Asbrock, further warned of the danger of blaming New Year’s violence on people with an immigrant background.

It also brought to mind the events of New Year’s Eve, 2015/16 in Cologne, when dozens of women were sexually assaulted by groups of men. Of the 153 suspects, 103 came from Morocco or Algeria, 68 were asylum seekers and 18 were suspected of being in the country illegally. Both the police and journalists were accused of a cover-up, due to initial media reports making no reference to the nationality or ethnicity of the suspects.

Ferda Ataman, anti-discrimination commissioner for the federal coalition government, stated that there was no justification for “racist reactions” to the New Year’s violence and urged for respect for human rights and against ethnicizing acts of crime. This was echoed by Güner Balci, Neukölln’s integration officer, who claimed that the violent acts were perpetrated by a small group of socially disadvantaged people and drugs may also have played a role.

As Tahera Ameer, program director at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, noted, the publishing of information about the nationality of those arrested was a form of segregation and pointed to an underlying issue of hostile attitudes towards immigration within German society.

In response to the violence, Berlin’s city mayor Franziska Giffey of the SPD announced plans to hold a summit to address youth violence, while many continued to advocate against anti-integration speeches and exclusionary sentiment.

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