IMMIGRATIONNew Year Eve Violence Sparks Debate in Germany About Integration

By Helen Whittle

Published 13 January 2023

Attacks on police and emergency services during the New Year’s Eve celebrations in ethnically diverse urban areas across Germany have given rise to a new immigration debate.

The dramatic scenes of streets ablaze to the sound of gunfire from blank-firing pistols as fireworks, stones and bottles were hurled at the police and emergency service workers shocked many. For two years the sale of fireworks had been banned in an attempt to prevent large gatherings and curb the spread of the coronavirus. This year’s New Year’s Eve celebrations have again reignited the debate about a potential ban on the sale of fireworks.

Eyewitnesses among police and firefighters spoke of unprecedented violence against them, calling for better protection.

But the fact that the multi-national, ethnically diverse district of Neukölln in Berlin was one of the main hotspots for the violence — local police described the intensity of the violence there as far worse than in previous years — was quickly seized upon by politicians and commentators. 

[It’s] more about unregulated migration, failed integration and a lack of respect for the state than fireworks,” the former-Health Minister Jens Spahn of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) said one day after the events.

On the same day, the disgraced former editor of the mass-market tabloid Bild, Julian Reichelt, posted a video on YouTube with the headline “Young, male, lawless: Migrants rampage through our cities on New Year’s Eve — the state capitulates.”

The conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), part of the largest opposition bloc in the federal parliament, the Bundestag, called for a new security concept and tougher policies to limit and control immigration.

Several representatives of the center-left federal government were quick to urge a tough response on perpetrators but objected to stoking xenophobic sentiment.

We must show violent people who refuse to integrate into our cities the limits: with a firm hand and clear language. But without stirring up racist resentment. Those who exploit the necessary debate in order to exclude do not solve the problem, but rather intensify it,” tweeted Interior Minister Nancy Faeser of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD)

Police Data on the Perpetrators
On Tuesday, the Berlin Police Department said that of 145 people arrested in connection with the violence, 139 were male, two-thirds were under the age of 25, and 27 were minors. They have all been released.

Of the 145 arrested, 45 were reported to be German nationals, 27 Afghan, and 21 Syrian.