Cologne Police Screen Hundreds Of North Africans, As Migrants Storm Spanish Enclave In Africa

The German police are learning from their past mistakes: one year after last year's notorious New Year's Eve mass attacks by migrants on German women in the city of Cologne, security forces in the city said they screened hundreds of North Africans at the main railway station on the last day of 2016 to prevent a repeat of last year's events.

“Hundreds of Nafris [North Africans] screened at main railway station,” Cologne police tweeted.

A separate tweet explained what was "Happening now in #Cologne central station: police blocking exits, taking groups of people for documents checks."

As Reuters earlier reported, the German police announced that they planned to step up security across the country, which included installing new video surveillance cameras around Cologne’s station square. Surprisingly, Germany's stepped up security did not translate into a better preparedness in Turkey, where overnight at least 39 people were killed when a gunman opened fire inside a popular crowded Nightclub in Istanbul.

Demonstrating Germany's preparedness for any eventuality, around 1,800 officers were deployed on New Year’s Eve this year, compared to only 140 in 2015.

The result was a relatively uneventful new year celebration: two sexual assaults were reportedly committed in Cologne this New Year’s Eve, with 29 people taken into custody, Kolner Stadt Anzeiger media outlet reported, citing a media statement from police which also noted that the personal information of about 1,700 people had been collected. Compare this to last year, when groups of men sexually assaulted and robbed as many as 600 women in the German city. The attackers were said to be mostly of North African and Arab appearance. 

Police spokesman Dirk Weber told Deutsche Welle that additional measures had been taken this year, including placing “at least 20 concrete blocks in key points such as bridges and gathering spots” and using heavy vehicles “to block some junctions, mainly to prevent similar attacks to the one that took place in Berlin earlier this month.”

Germany remains on a heightened state of alert after a truck plowed into a Christmas market in central Berlin two weeks ago, killing 12 people and injuring 56. The key suspect, Tunisian national Anis Amri, had recorded a video pledging allegiance to the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group, which took responsibility for the attack.

Separately, confirming that Europe's migrant problems are not going anywhere in 2017, Reuters reported that around 1,100 sub-Saharan African migrants tried to cross into Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta from Morocco on Sunday by storming a border fence, though most were eventually turned back, the Spanish government said.

Dozens of migrants made it to the top of the 6 meter barbed wire fence in the early hours of Sunday before being lifted down by cranes, footage from local TV station Faro TV showed. Only two people were allowed into Ceuta to be taken to hospital while the rest were returned to Morocco, the Spanish government said in a statement.

Five Spanish police and 50 from Morocco were injured, the government added, after migrants used rocks and metal bars to try and break through gates to access the fence and clashed with authorities.

In early December more than 400 sub-Saharan African migrants managed to force their way over the Ceuta border fence.

Spain's two enclaves in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla, are often used as entry points into Europe for African migrants, who either climb over their border fences or try to swim along the coast.

Spain has drawn criticism from human rights groups for allowing some migrants to be immediately turned back to Morocco in such incidents. They argue that skipping the lengthier deportation procedures deprives people of the opportunity to claim asylum.

However, Libya has become a more common departure point for African migrants, most of whom come from sub-Saharan countries and attempt the crossing to Italy by boat. 2016 was the deadliest year ever for migrants in the Mediterranean, with almost 5,000 deaths, according to the International Organization for Migration.

While there is little indication the refugee tide into Europe is subsiding, there is a glimmer of hope that with the proxy war in Syria hopefully on its last legs, that the biggest source of refugees out of the Middle East will have less of an impetus to make the long, dangerous trek to Europe in the coming year.