• Refugee Hostels in Germany Beset by Sexual Assault - SPIEGEL ONLINE

    Diala Hasan was surprised by her attacker in the kitchen of the refugee hostel where she is staying. She was cooking rice with peas when a fellow resident from Macedonia suddenly appeared. He commanded her to “come to my room.” He then grabbed the young woman’s face with his thumb and index finger, pressing his body against hers. Hasan resisted and screamed. She was only able to free herself with great effort.

    A few weeks after the attack, Hasan, a 17-year-old high school student from Damascus, is sitting on a stool in the asylum-seeker hostel in Bergisch Gladbach, a city located 15 kilometers (9 miles) east of Cologne. She is fiddling with two hand-made bracelets on her right arm. Her voice shakes as she talks about her life in the shelter. She says that she and her two sisters, nine-year-old Hala and 22-year-old Israa, have been repeatedly stared at and groped, and that male residents have hissed obscene comments at them. It happens in the courtyard, in the kitchen and in the hallways. One man kept coming into their room while she was sleeping.

    Hasan doesn’t understand why the shelter administrators have done nothing about the assaults. Following the attack in the kitchen, police officers showed up at the hostel, but they only repeated what the guards had already said, Hasan says: Sorry, but without proof we can’t help you. It is a sentence that female refugees in Germany often hear.

    More than 440,000 people applied for asylum in Germany last year, with roughly a third of them being women and girls. Their number has increased in recent months. According to a February estimate by the German Foreign Ministry, up to eight of 10 refugees on the Balkan Route were women and unaccompanied minors in the weeks preceding the report. They were hoping for a life in safety but were, like Diala Hasan, frequently disappointed. “Nobody helps us,” she says. “We are completely alone.”

    The German government was unprepared for the extremely rapid rise in the number of asylum-seekers coming to the country in 2015. States and municipalities were forced to quickly find shelters for the new arrivals. Gymnasiums were emptied out to make room and former building supplies stores were hurriedly modified. More recently, the number of refugee arrivals has dropped significantly, providing the government with an opportunity to focus more on integration.

    Failing to Provide Protection

    But Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition is failing to provide protection to exactly those people who need it most: women, children and minorities who have fled their homes. The government’s commissioner responsible for the issue of sexual violence against children, Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig, is currently dealing with 40 cases of sexual assault on children inside refugee hostels in recent months,