Guest contribution by Rahim Hajji and Soraya Moket

Rahim Hajji ©David Ausserhofer

The sexual and criminal infringements on New Year´s Eve in Cologne, which are mostly attributed to young illegalized North African immigrants, changed Germany. This article does not intend to clear the adolescents of their individual responsibility or to relativize the deeds. This could possibly be implied due to our Moroccan origin. We want to make it very clear that the victims of sexual harrassment and theft have our sympathy, that we regret the criminal infringements and that we hope that the victims will recover from the incidents quickly.

In this article, we would like to develop a societal perspective on the events and present the causes and consequences from a sociological point of view while viewing processes of community and society development. This perspective allows us to present the collateral damages for our society in order to regard the events and their consequences critically and differentiating.

The sexual and criminal infringements by illegalized immigrants on New Year´s Eve in Cologne influenced Germany´s policies on foreigners and asylum

Soraya Moket

Soraya Moket

significantly. As a result, federal politicians made the laws concerning the expulsion of foreigners and asylum seekers who committed crimes more rigorous.

In fact, there is no connection between the crimes committed by young illegalized immigrants from North Africa in Cologne and other cities and the foreigners, asylum seekers and refugees holding a residence permit or a claim to one. Yet the foreigners living in Germany holding a residence permit or a claim to one have to suffer the consequences of the infringements on New Year´s Eve. In addition to more restrictive living conditions, they have to put up with growing prejudices against foreigners – especially those of North African origin are affected by this. Just to mention a few of the pejorative terms that are so common for people of North African origin right now: “Nafris, “suburb hordes from the Maghreb”.

The politicians must have found themselves in a hopeless situation around the turn of the year. The infringements by young illegalized immigrants from North Africa changed the image of the refugee in the media from a victim of a terrible civil war who had to flee his country to the image of a criminal, sexually aggressive refugee marked by the patriarchy. The public demanded a reaction after the attack on German women that was perceived as a sign of an attack on the free western order of life. The state reacted by tightening the laws on residence for foreigners rightfully living here in Germany. That was a politics of symbolism which sadly missed the group of offenders. But the tightening of the foreigners policy was to show that the state is able to act as federal politicians notice the pressure from the right and from the public in election polls and at the basis. The tightening did not solely serve the purpose of showing the public that the politicians are able to act, but it surely also was to reduce public consent to right-wing parties by implementing conservative politics as a symbol of strength.

This symbolic policies have made the foreigners living in Germany with a residence permit a subject of negotiations between politicians and the electorate. How did foreigners in Germany having nothing to do with the incidents on New Year´s Eve possibly feel when the new legislation discriminated against them and excluded them? It has to be mentioned that about one fifth of the German population is of foreign origin and was marginalized and made into potential offenders in their own home by the symbolic policies. This can make a lasting impact on the political estrangement from the German homeland and thus needlessly puts the successes of the last decades in immigration politics and integration politics on the line. Here, the political elite is missing a feel for the people of foreign origin, who can influence the elections decisively.

Yet the causes for the infringements are not resolved by the tightening of the policies on foreigners. They are not resolved either by declaring the North African countries from which the offenders come to be safe countries of origin in order to accelerate their deportation. The causes for the infringements and the crimes committed lie, in our opinion, in the uncontrollability of borders and the non-enforceability of the Dublin III process during persisting poverty and political unrest in the neighbouring countries.

The opening of the borders for Syrian refugees is leading to illegalized immigrants coming with the refugees from Syria to Germany and seeking their fortune here. Yet illegalized immigrants from “safe”, but poor countries of origin do not have a legal claim to a permit for stay as asylum seekers in Germany. So immigrants are illegalized and without prospects from their first day in the country of their dreams. They will never own a permit for residence or work, a national insurance card or a health insurance card. Their hopelessness is made by society because we have not made it possible for illegalized immigrants to legalize their residence status in Germany. But through the open, uncontrollable borders, migrants from “safe”, but poor countries of origin come to Europe – denying their national identity under the guise of the Syrian or Afghan civil war – in order to live here, not knowing that it is hopeless.

They arrive, among others, in Düsseldorf, in Cologne, in Hamburg and are allowed to take part in the shimmering, colourful, loud life of society only by looking on. They will stroll along the Kö, the Mittelstraße, the Alster, along the exclusive boutiques and restaurants, whishing for a residence permit and prosperity, but we deny them every claim to it. Through the uncontrollability of the borders, we unintentionally produce criminality as people who cross the borders to Germany and stay here illegally do not have any prospects. Subsequently, they will have to become criminal in order to make their living in the shadows of society – without wanting to relativize the individual responsibility of the illegalized immigrants for their criminal actions. We do not necessarily mean the pick-pocketing as even a job on a building site can only be done without declaration because the work permit that is tied to a residence permit is missing. This partly explains the offences made known through the news.

The question of the sexual infringements remains unanswered. Here, different factors can be given, like for example: group dynamics and the experience of a subjective feeling of superiority, a patriarchal image of women combined with the affiliation with a hopeless and disadvantaged social stratum, the police´s perceived lack of power to sanction them, the tense atmosphere, and possibly the inexperienced consumption of alcohol. These social conditions could be causes for the sexual infringements, and they allow us to avoid the sweeping cultural model of explanation, which can only be false as it is a monocausal attempt to explain cultural concepts.

The current refugee policy has been designed in an exemplary and modern manner by the government. The borders are open to refugees in need who seek protection, and many are on their way to Germany, to Europe to look for protection. Our society will have to face great challenges in integrating refugees in the next five to ten years. The introduction of an arrival pass is the right way to register refugees in a first formal step in order to plan and implement measures of integration after that. But what about the people who do not have a claim to residence in Germany? The open borders will continue to be used by people from poor countries to seek their fortune in Germany. These people will not apply for an arrival pass because they know exactly that they will probably be expelled.

We have to recognize that we are in a dilemma: our moral duty to help refugees, which is also enshrined in our Basic Law, and the impossibility to control the borders involuntarily produce a stream of foreign people who live in Germany illegally and thus do not profit from the measures of integration. Media, sciences and politics would all do well to look at this situation in a differentiated way and to clarify it so that the peaceful and harmonic coexistence of people of different origin in Germany is not burdened by making foreigners with a residence permit into potential offenders and thus reducing their quality of life. Instead, we have to think about illegalized people possibly being able to legalize their status in the not-too-far future if we do not want to create a permanent class of illegalized immigrants which lives in the shadows of society and is exploited through illegal employment relationships. There is the possibility to formally record the group of the illegalized through a status of toleration in order to get them out of the shadows of society so that we can still live in a society with prospects in the future.

More than ever, we need a culture of honest and open debate about migration, escape and integration which is not instrumentalized by the “Right” for political causes. But unfortunately, we have to presume that the current situation is used by the “Right”  for going on the campaign trail. They will polemize the discussion, they will instrumentalize the discussion – this article is suited very well to design a new scenario of threat.

Our task is to show every day that it is worthwhile to pursue politics with trust and courage because that opens up opportunities. Our hope is that the established parties will face the political competition for the best ideas in order to establish an up-to-date immigration and integration policy. In this, there will be progressive as well as conservative suggestions, and we have to make it clear to the public that the policies of the “Right” are policies of fear, incompetence, injustice and above all a sign of irresponsibility.

In the end, the only thing that is left is the hope that the people in Germany, independent from their origins, know about their political responsibility and that there will not be any experiments to the “Right”. The next years will not be easy, for sure. Integration will not sort itself out, we all have to make our contribution wherever it is possible. Let us stand together indepedently from our origin and culture and choose the politics of agreement, tolerance and justice so that our society will master the challenge of escape and poverty!


Prof. Dr. Rahim Hajji is a professor in social welfare and healthcare at the Hochschule Magdeburg-Stendal. His focus of research is, among others, integration and migration research, organisation sociology, health sociology, and empirical social research. His publications comprise “Processes of socialisation in families with a Moroccan migrant background” (2008) and “On the other side of Rif and Ruhr. 50 years of Moroccan migration to Germany” (ed., together with Andreas Pott, Khatima Bouras-Ostmann and Soraya Moket). Zum Lebenslauf… 

Dr. Soraya Moket is a sociologist and the chair woman of the association Ramesch – Forum for intercultural encounters in Saarbrücken.