After 500 women were attacked in Cologne and other German cities on New Year's Eve, 40 percent of those being sexual assaults, one European expert suggests that while the refugee vetting system reveals the idea of a "Fortress Europe" is an illusion, this is no time for hysterics.
Stefani Weiss, director and expert on European politics at Bertelsmann Stiftung, an independent, nonprofit German foundation, told The Christian Post in a phone interview this week that Germany is facing significant challenges due to the ongoing refugee crisis, but said that with the help of other European States, the situation can still be stabilized.
"The important thing is not to become hysterical. As painful as the incident in Cologne is, this is not a picture of daily life and security in Germany," Weiss told CP.
"There is deterioration, there are ghettos, but this is still something we could improve with more proactive means, with preventative means, with more police around, and with a better judicial system that really is able to take a hold on those criminals and place them before a judge," she added.
Germany took in close to 1.1 million refugees in 2015, more than any other EU country, but Weiss noted that such a thing cannot be repeated every year.
"There has to be a European solution," she continued. "The member states need to accept that this is a European problem, and that it needs a European solution. We have to be more aware of the risks which might be involved regarding our security and safety, but we shouldn't put refugees and criminals into one basket."
The refugee debate escalated in Germany in January following the mass attacks on women in Cologne on New Year's Eve, when large gangs of young men, many of whom of North African and Arab appearance, robbed and carried out sexual assaults on women who were out on the streets.
Cologne chief of police Wolfgang Albers resigned from his post after police failed to immediately report on the attacks, while thousands of protesters marched in the far-right PEGIDA movement in the following days against Germany's welcome of refugees, holding signs such as "Rapefugees not welcome," and clashing with police.
Weiss said that what happened in Cologne is a failure on the part of police, but said there is no reason to suspect there was a direct attempt to cover up what happened.
"There was a tendency not to play into the hands of xenophobes, but I think it was also mishandled and mismanaged within the police," she said.
She noted that people's fears appear to be escalating tensions surrounding the refugee crisis, but that does not mean there was necessarily a directive to suppress information.
The Bertelsmann Stiftung director argued that the crime wave was a public relations blow for those who "do not see this in black and white categories" and want to argue that, "OK, there are problems — some of these problems with North African men are long standing. But there is no reason to muddle this with the actual refugee crisis, where men and women and children are trying to seek shelter and protection from these kind of abuses."
Weiss admitted that the situation is still very emotional, but said that she disagrees with attempts to portray the crisis as "the end of Europe as we know it," arguing that for people who are xenophobic, the attacks in Cologne was like "water on the mills."