Competing goods

On the one hand: in general, welcoming immigrants is a good thing, and welcoming refugees and asylum speakers is a moral imperative. On the other hand: there are genuine reasons to think it’s not possible to welcome all immigrants who would like to immigrate.

For one of those reasons, we have what seems to have happened in Cologne and elsewhere in Germany. I emphasize “seems” because accounts differ.

The New York Times yesterday:

As 2016 neared on Dec. 31, however, some 1,500 men, including some newly arrived asylum seekers and many other immigrants, had instead assembled around Cologne’s train station. Drunk and dismissive of the police, they took advantage of an overwhelmed force to sexually assault and rob hundreds of people, according to police reports, shocking Germany and stoking anxieties over absorbing refugees across Europe.

“We were just pressed on all sides by people,” recalled one victim, Johanna, 18, who agreed to speak by telephone from Lake Constance, Germany, where she lives, only if her last name was not used, fearing hostility, particularly over social media. “I was grabbed continually. I have never experienced such a thing in any German city.”

It’s not a trend anyone should want to introduce, is it.

Much is still hazy about that night. But the police reports and the testimony of officials and victims suggest that the officers failed to anticipate the new realities of a Germany that is now host to up to a million asylum seekers, most from war-torn Muslim countries unfamiliar with its culture.

Working from outdated expectations, the police made a series of miscalculations that, officials acknowledge, allowed the situation to deteriorate. At the same time, both the police and victims say, it was not a situation any of them had encountered before. This was new terrain for all, and just one taste of the challenges facing Germany and its leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, to assimilate a huge new population in an atmosphere of dwindling tolerance and volatile politics.

Lale Akgun, 62, a Turkish-born analyst who has lived in Cologne and worked on integration issues for decades, said in an interview that the New Year’s Eve incident highlighted the growing tension between those who see the new arrivals as a source of enrichment and those who see them as a burden, or even a danger.

What about the people who see them both ways? What about the people who think some of the new arrivals will enrich while others will burden? What about the people who frankly don’t know which will be dominant?

Another woman who was there, Sara, a 25-year-old from the Bavarian town of Aschaffenburg, said the situation was still precarious at 4 a.m., when she arrived at the station with a girlfriend. Hundreds of what she described as “foreign” men “began to circle around us,” she said, agreeing to speak only if her last name was not used, also for fear of being attacked over social media.

“I grabbed my girlfriend — I do social work with women who are affected by violence — and told her: ‘Don’t look any of them in the eyes. Keep hold of your purse.’ Then I got frightened, told them ‘Leave me in peace’ with a hand gesture — anyone in the world understands that.”

Sara said that she and her friend decided to seek safety outside the station with police officers, who were themselves helpless. “I never experienced that a policeman says, ‘I would love to help you, but I can’t.’ That was really the worst,” she said. “Who should I turn to as a woman? What should I do?”

Wouldn’t it be nice if women were considered and treated as human beings everywhere in the world? So that male immigrants and refugees would be no more likely to gang up on women than anyone else?

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