German Authorities Accused of Playing down Refugee Shelter Sex Crime Reports

Reuters, October 6, 2015

Germany’s police union and women’s rights groups accused the authorities on Tuesday of playing down reports of harassment, sexual assault and even rape at refugee shelters because they feared a backlash against asylum seekers.

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But police union chief Rainer Wendt said he believed that authorities in Germany’s federal states, which are responsible for housing asylum seekers, were playing down the problem of assaults on women in the shelters.

“It is understandable that there is the desire to calm things down politically,” Wendt told Reuters. But he, along with women’s groups, believed that ignoring the problem would be counterproductive. “There is a lot of glossing over going on. But this doesn’t represent reality,” he said.

With public opinion hardening on the refugee influx, German authorities appear anxious to avoid giving extreme-right groups any opportunity to stir up hostility towards migrants, many of whom are Muslims including those fleeing the Syrian civil war.

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But Wendt said the police were reporting cases to the state governments, which have their own interior ministers. These people should take note, he said: “The interior ministers would be well advised to have a look at their own reports to know what actually happens on our streets at night and in the shelters.”

Wendt said that a high number of cases went unreported as women rarely dared to file complaints with police or public prosecutors.

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With men accounting for about 70 percent of asylum seekers, other groups across the country have demanded gender-segregated accommodation and safe zones for women.

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Tuelin Akkoc, spokeswomen for refugee affairs with the opposition Green Party in Hamburg, accepted that far-right groups might use such reports to turn sentiment against migrants. But she told Reuters: “That’s no reason to sweep this issue under the carpet. Right now is the time for the authorities to raise their voices in order to prevent extremist groups from dominating the debate.”

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