The tensions simmering beneath Germany’s willingness to take in one million migrants blew into the open on Tuesday after reports that scores of young women in Cologne had been groped and robbed on New Year’s Eve by gangs of men described by the authorities as having “a North African or Arabic” appearance.
Taking advantage of the New Year’s Eve street party, hundreds of young men broke into groups and formed rings around young women, refusing to let them escape, the authorities said. Some groped victims while others stole wallets or cellphones.
Witnesses described the atmosphere around the city’s central train station as aggressive and threatening, with firecrackers being thrown into the crowd. The women who were attacked screamed and tried to fight their way free, a man who had struggled to protect his girlfriend told German public television.
The Cologne police added that they had received 90 complaints from victims, including one who said she had been raped. No arrests have been made.
In Hamburg, the police said 10 women had reported that they were sexually assaulted and robbed in a similar fashion on the same night.
It was not clear that any of the men involved were among those who arrived in Germany over the past year from conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a statement, called the assaults disgusting. “Everything must be done to investigate as completely and quickly as possible those who are guilty and to punish them regardless of how they look, where they come from or what their background is,” she said.