BERLIN (ChurchMilitant.com) - Anxieties in Germany over the influx of Syrian refugees have heightened amid reports of mass assaults on New Year's Eve.
According to authorities, multiple young women reported having been sexually assaulted and robbed by groups of men described as "North African or Arabic" in appearance.
The attacks were said to have occurred late Thursday in Cologne's central train station and the nearby public square; several hundred visibly inebriated men, believed to be between the ages of 15 and 35, began tossing firecrackers into the crowds, before forming in groups. The groups then proceeded to encircle young women, groping them and stealing personal items. An eyewitness described the entire atmosphere as "aggressive and threatening," reporting he heard females scream as they were being attacked and struggled to escape.
"Nobody knew where to go," the eyewitness claimed. "We stood with our backs to the wall and could see how people were robbed and German girls were groped. I was surrounded by a group of 50 to 60 people from Arabic countries. They would come up to us, shake hands and then try to reach into our bags."
Cologne authorities say 90 young women have reported being sexually assaulted and robbed, with one women alleging she was raped. Authorities have stated an additional 10 women from Hamburg claim to have been attacked that night.
To date, no arrests have been made.
"Everything must be done to investigate as completely and quickly as possible those who are guilty and to punish them regardless of how they look, where they come from or what their background is," said German chancellor Angela Merkel in a statement.
The attacks combined with the descriptions of the assailants have ignited debate within the country. Hundreds took to the streets of Cologne protesting the attacks and demanding action from Chancellor Merkel. Some held signs reading "Mrs Merkel! Where are you? What do you say? This alarms us!"
The mayor of Cologne attempted to dissuade the protesters by noting there are "no indications that this involved people who have sought shelter in Cologne as refugees." To date Cologne has accepted more than 10,000 refugees.
The New Year's Eve attacks have also spurred outrage from the country's right-leaning activists groups.
"We locals can no longer put up with everything that is being routinely swept under the rug based on a false sense of tolerance," declared Christopher Freiherr von Mengersen, head of the populist Pro-Germany Citizen's Movement.
"The government's loss of control is not only taking place on the borders," writes Alexander Marguier of political magazine Cicero. "For whoever gives up control of who enters the country no longer has control over the consequences of this action."
Despite the tensions, Chancellor Merkel has declared she does not support a cap on the number of refugees expected to enter Germany in 2016. "This is not the chancellor's position," a spokesman announced.
The acceptance of refugees has been a hot topic for months in nearly every Western nation. In the United States the Conference of Catholic bishops has supported the annual resettlement of 100,000 Syrian refugees across the country, in addition to 100,000 more from various other countries, despite outcry from many across the political spectrum. The vast majority of these refugees are Muslim, and only a small fraction Christian.
In a statement, Abp. Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged
all Catholics in the United States and others of good will to express openness and welcome to these refugees, who are escaping desperate situations in order to survive. Regardless of their religious affiliation or national origin, these refugees are all human persons — made in the image of God, bearing inherent dignity, and deserving our respect and care and protection by law from persecution.
Pope Francis has also called on Western European countries to assist in the crisis, urging "every" parish to take in at least one refugee family.