COLOGNE, GERMANY —
In Germany, polls show support for anti-immigrant political parties have risen since the hundreds of attacks on women in Cologne, apparently by groups of migrants.
Sitting in a Cologne café, former English teacher Basheer Alzaalan scrolls through photos on his phone of his escape from Syria. He says Germany has offered sanctuary, and the attacks on New Year’s Eve filled him with anger.
“Germany for the Syrians was some kind of mother, and at the head of that, [Chancellor] Angela Merkel. I had fears after the incidents in Cologne," he admitted. "But after then I felt that the people just understand, they do not have that kind of strategy that depends on action and reaction.”
Alzaalan wrote newspaper articles apologizing for the attacks on behalf of migrants, and imploring locals not to blame all refugees.
Syrian refugee Basheer Alzaalan on his journey to Germany via Turkey, Greece and Eastern Europe. (Photo courtesy B. Alzaalan)
But the attacks have had political consequences. One poll showed support for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany Party has risen to an all-time high of 11.5 percent - putting it in third place.
Hendrik Rottman, head of the party’s Cologne branch, says that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s "open door" philosophy has ensured that Germany has an unbelievable amount of migration and asylum seekers, of which some are refugees. But he says a large portion are unregistered, so no one knows what they are doing here.
Of the 1.1 million migrants who came to Germany in 2015, 10,000 have settled in Cologne. The attacks have prompted some to question if so many newcomers can be integrated. Others claim the differing cultures cannot be mixed.
Cologne authorities insist it can be done.
Migrants hold flowers behind the fence of a refugee home in Cologne, Germany, Jan. 22, 2016.
Gregor Timmer, spokesman for the mayor says the vast majority of the refugees want to start a new life and integrate peacefully. That is a lot of work for Germans, he says, such as language courses, integration courses, and finding jobs. This is all relatively new, he adds.
Early next month, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to line Cologne’s streets for the annual carnival. Groups of people are already out in costume.
One woman dressed in a pirate outfit says people in Cologne know more migrants are coming and are approaching it positively. But she says Germans are not going to let them "take away our fun, this is our culture," she adds.
Security is being heavily stepped up for the carnival. Cologne’s authorities are aware any further attacks like those on New Year’s Eve would have an impact far beyond the city’s streets.