The media world blew up Monday after a report that just three of 58 people arrested for the sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve were Iraqi and Syrian refugees.
Headlines predictably trumpeted the news. There’s just one problem: The guy who made the news, German Prosecutor Ulrich Bremer, called the coverage “complete nonsense” in a follow up with the Associated Press.
“The overwhelming majority of persons fall into the general category of refugees,” Bremer told AP, clarifying that refugees aren’t all coming from Syria and Iraq, that the vast majority of the perpetrators were of North African descent.
Here’s how the media bias went down:
The Independent, a left-of-center daily newspaper in London, was among the first to report the initial story. The article cited the initial Feb. 10 report from German newspaper Die Welt in which Bremer gave an update on the number of people who had been arrested for involvement in the attacks, and their respective nationalities.
The reported stats did not get much attention in Germany. Ever since the news of the attacks hit the streams, it has been widely known that many of the perpetrators were of North African descent. The state where Cologne is located, North Rhine Westphalia, has long been the place where the vast majority of Tunisians and Moroccans end up settling. (RELATED: Germany’s Largest State Bans Immigration From Morocco After Cologne Attacks)
Most updates on arrests of the attackers have also confirmed the North African connection. The Welt article was simply an update on the growing number of arrests. The nationalities of the arrested were revealed in the second-to-last paragraph. These include 25 Algerians, 21 Moroccans, three Tunisians, three German, two Syrians, one Iraqi, one Libyan, one Iranian and one Montenegrin.
Since a majority of the news cycle regarding refugees in Europe revolves around Syrians, The Independent may well have thought it had unburied a massive scoop in the fact that authorities arrested just two Syrians and one Iraqi. The Independent scrambled with the headline: “Cologne: Only three out of 58 men arrested over mass sex attack on New Year’s Eve are recent refugees.”
Still, the lead of the story still reads incorrectly:
“Just three of the 58 suspects arrested in connection with the mass sex attack on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve were refugees, it has been reported.”
Again, Bremer’s response, “complete nonsense.”
Nowhere in the original article from Welt is the time frame of the suspects’ arrival in Germany mentioned. The Independent jumps to the conclusion that just three of them could have arrived recently, identifying these three as the Syrians and the Iraqi. Nevertheless, the Independent’s report quickly spread to other news outlets around the globe. The Huffington Post took it a step further, saying the three were the only suspects that were under refugee status at all.
The HuffPo headline read: “Cologne Sex Attacks: Only Three Out Of 58 Men Arrested Are Refugees, Prosecutor Reveals.”
What the outlets all got right is that Bremer was the one cited in the Welt article. The Associated Press reached out to Bremer for a comment on the news after the story had gone viral. After Bremer’s clarification, The Independent edited its article slightly. The edited headline now reads: “Cologne: Three out of 58 men arrested over mass sex attack on New Year’s Eve were refugees from Syria or Iraq.”
The updated version maintains focus on the three refugees. The Independent still tried to justify why refugees from Syria and Iraq differ from Algerians and Moroccans.
Their response to Bremer’s “complete nonsense” statement reads:
He said some had entered Germany saying they wanted to apply for asylum while others have formally filed an application.
A refugee is commonly understood to mean either an individual who has been granted asylum or someone who has fled a conflict zone.
In January, the German government backed plans to include three north African states – Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia – on a list of safe countries of origin”, meaning people from those nations would be highly unlikely to be granted asylum.
Since the crimes took place before Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia were added to the list of “safe countries of origin,” the new policy would not affect the perpetrators’ potential refugee status at the time.
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