Officials are investigating against three suspects following reports of robberies and sexual assault on New Year's Eve. Germany's ministers have meanwhile spoken in favor of stronger laws against foreign offenders.
Officers said they had begun looking into five initial suspects, the police spokesman said on Wednesday. The men were apprehended on charges of pickpocketing and the arrests were not made in connection with incidents of sexual assault at the Cologne central station on New Year's Eve, the spokesman added.
Officials said 106 complaints had been registered so far. Around 75 percent of these complaints were related to sexual assault, the officers said. "Many women told us that they were also touched [by the attackers]," a police spokeswoman told reporters in Cologne.
Weisser Ring, an organization helping victims of harassment called on women who experienced assault on New Year's Eve to register a complaint with the police. "It is like football: if we don't step up, we'v e already lost," the organization's representative Rudi Glas told journalists.
Tougher laws for offenders
Security officials came under severe criticism after reports that groups of young men had robbed and sexually harassed women in Cologne's central station on New Year's Eve. The men were reported to be of Arabic or North African origin. Police did not comment on whether the culprits were refugees, but media and political debates linked the problem to Berlin's willingness to let immigrants into the country.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere called upon all people living in Germany to recognize the equal rights women enjoy and threatened foreign offenders with deportation. "Anyone who commits serious crimes must reckon with getting deported out of Germany, regardless of his status," de Maiziere said. He also hinted at changing laws to prevent criminals from getting asylum in Germany.
Family Minister Manuela Schwesig also emphasized that anyone committing a crime against women would lose his right to stay in Germany.
Steps towards a secure democracy
Speaking to DW, Syrian asylum seeker Izzat Masaud expressed regret at the incident, saying all refugees were not inclined to sexually assault women. "What I have to say is that those who carry out such attacks do not represent us as Arabs or as Muslims. A lot of refugees are Muslims and our religion and education forbid something like this," Masaud said.
The Central Council of Muslims in Germany also condemned the incident, saying that the police force needed more members from immigrant communities. "In this manner, we can set an example in the direction of a fortified democracy," the council's President Aiman Mayzek said.
mg/rc (dpa, epd)