The Cologne attacks are a nightmare - but not an excuse to shut out refugees.


On New Year’s Eve, in the German city of Cologne, over 600 women were sexually assaulted, mugged or raped.

It was – and is – a night of unmitigated horror. There are countless accounts from women who were suffocated with dread and fear the minute they exited Cologne central station, where the attacks were carried out. Similarly from bystanders who attempted to intervene.

It has left the city, and the nation, in shock and its reverberations will extend well beyond Europe’s borders.

(Image: Getty/Sascha Schuermann)

Twenty-two asylum seekers are among the 31 suspects and their crimes are being considered, by some, as proof of Angela Merkel’s open borders policy (under which Germany accepted 1.1 million refugees last year) being flawed.


It is the ‘evidence’ apparently needed to warn us all of the perils of taking a humanitarian and welcoming approach to asylum seekers.

Thousands of Germans have taken to the streets in recent days to protest the egregious NYE sex attacks, but they are far from united.

One right wing group, Pegida, are staunchly opposed to what they call the “Islamisation” of Germany. They carried banners declaring ‘Rapefugees’ unwelcome. They want Merkel ousted and they want Germany to close its borders.

Another counter group are disgusted that these sexual attacks would be exploited for the gain of what they deem to be Pegida’s racist agenda.

Police were called in to manage the tension and hostility between the opposing protesters.

The tug of war between those who would exclude refugees and those who would open borders to those who need a home resonates outside Germany. All around the world, as the number of displaced citizens reaches record figures, western nations are grappling with how to respond. There is an inevitable and growing tension between those who fear the influx of families and individuals from “different” backgrounds and those who fear the cruelty of denying refugees a home.

The New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne are being used to validate the worst fears of the former. The attacks are ‘proof’ that refugees are dangerous.

But that isn’t the whole story. In this case it seems a group of men were dangerous. Criminally dangerous. Some of those men were recent arrivals. There is no excuse for sexual assault: criminal behaviour is criminal behaviour regardless of the perpetrator.


But it doesn’t follow that because a group of refugees are dangerous that all refugees are dangerous. That view is deeply misguided and it belies another real and ugly reality:

The sexual assault, rape and physical abuse of women takes place every day in our own backyards, in our own homes and the perpetrators span generations, cultural backgrounds and income brackets.

We know this.

We know that most assaults and rapes in Australia are carried out by men women know.

“The sexual assault, rape and physical abuse of women takes place every day in our own backyards…”

We know that last year in Australia nearly two women were killed every week by either current or former partners.

None of this renders the attacks in Cologne any more palatable. Nothing ever will.

But it’s context that cannot be ignored. Subversive and violent attitudes towards women are not merely a problem for another group, from another country.

The first 11 days of 2016 are proof that here in Australia we have plenty of ground to make up ourselves in this realm.

What happened in Cologne is abhorrent but it is not an excuse to shut out asylum seekers and it is not proof that all refugees are dangerous. It is proof that some men and women are dangerous.

Let’s not compound the horror by adding bigotry to an already nightmarish situation.