A mayoral candidate who was stabbed Saturday in Cologne, Germany — allegedly for supporting the resettlement of refugees in the city — won the election Sunday amid rising tensions over refugee policies in Germany, which will welcome up to 1.5 million people this year.
Henriette Reker won with 53 percent of the vote as she was recovering from the attack, which took place at a campaign event. A 44-year-old man and former member of a now-banned neo-Nazi organization stabbed her in the neck, saying, "It's wrong what's happening here. I'm freeing you from such follies," according to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. He also expressed fears that "foreigners would take jobs" and that Sharia would be imposed in the country, the paper reported. German police, who charged him with attempted murder, labeled it a "racist, political" act.
Reker and an aide were both severely wounded but remain in a stable condition, police told reporters.
Reker, who ran as an independent in the city, in western Germany, was supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU). Merkel expressed "shock" over the attack, while Interior Minister Thomas de Maziere called it an "appalling, cowardly" attack.
About 710,000 people have crossed into EU nations so far this year, a record number, according to Frontex, the EU border agency. Germany expects to take in up to 1.5 million refugees in 2015, more than any other European country. In the week of Oct. 9, the International Organization for Migration found that more than 7,000 refugees crossed into Greece from Turkey each day, as winter approaches.
Some mayors, most in eastern Germany, where unemployment is higher than in the west, have openly revolted against Merkel's policies and have called for more federal funding to help them cope with the refugee crisis.
Merkel’s coalition is beginning to fray over her migration policies. One of the most controversial proposals is a measure to install so-called transit zones at the German border to speed up asylum processing. Merkel agreed to adopt the policy last week to appease a Bavarian political ally, which has its base near the Austrian border, but it was criticized as unduly harsh by members of the Social Democrats, part of Merkel’s coalition in parliament, who refused to support the idea of "detainment centers on the border." Ultimately the plan stalled. But it has revealed the dissent simmering beneath party alliances, according to analysts at Der Spiegel.
The anti-immigrant group PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), staged another protest in Dresden on Monday against the government’s refugee policies. A similar event last week drew thousands of participants, many from them complaining of the overload of local facilities. Police have registered more than 430 arson attacks against shelters in the past four months as discontent with Merkel’s asylum policies continues to grow.
Over the summer thousands of volunteers in Germany welcomed refugees at train stations and shelters, delivering food, medical care and administrative support. But the mood has shifted in recent weeks as authorities scramble to keep up with the demand for resettlement. Acute shortages of German teachers, judges and social workers have delayed the processing of asylum claims and set back integration programs, including language classes.
With wire services