Thursday 29 September 2016

Laws need to be toughened to ease deportation of migrants after Cologne sex attacks, says Angela Merkel

After the sex attacks in Cologne, the German Chancellor says that it should be easier to deport migrants who commit serious crimes

Published 09/01/2016 | 12:42

Police officers patrol in front of the main station of Cologne, Germany, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016
Police officers patrol in front of the main station of Cologne, Germany, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Reuters
Air guns are seen in a showcase of a gunsmith's shop in Berlin, Germany, January 8, 2016. Demand for pepper spray and blank-firing guns has surged in Germany, particularly after militant attacks in Paris in November and assaults on women in Cologne on New Year's Eve. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
A shop assistant sets up a row of pepper spray in a showcase of a gunsmith's shop in Berlin, Germany, January 8, 2016. Demand for pepper spray and blank-firing guns has surged in Germany, particularly after militant attacks in Paris in November and assaults on women in Cologne on New Year's Eve. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Germany’s law should be toughened to make it easier to deport migrants who commit serious crimes, Angela Merkel has said.

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Responding to intense public anger after the sex attacks in Cologne – perpetrated mainly by men of African and Middle Eastern origin – the Chancellor said the law should be changed.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Reuters

At present, asylum seekers can only be deported if they are sentenced to at least three years in prison – and if their lives would not be at risk in their countries of origin.

 "The question that arises after Cologne is when do you lose your right to stay with us?" said Mrs Merkel. "I have to say that, for me, we must take it away sooner. We must do this for us - and for the many refugees who were not part of the events in Cologne. I think there are indications that changes must happen.”

Mrs Merkel added: “The interior minister and the justice minister are discussing just what we could improve.”

But Mrs Merkel refused to retreat from her open-door policy for refugees, which saw 1.1 million people arrive in Germany in 2015 alone. Whether it would be legally or practically possible to deport an offender back to Syria – where a civil war is raging – remains unclear.

Air guns are seen in a showcase of a gunsmith's shop in Berlin, Germany, January 8, 2016. Demand for pepper spray and blank-firing guns has surged in Germany, particularly after militant attacks in Paris in November and assaults on women in Cologne on New Year's Eve. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
Air guns are seen in a showcase of a gunsmith's shop in Berlin, Germany, January 8, 2016. Demand for pepper spray and blank-firing guns has surged in Germany, particularly after militant attacks in Paris in November and assaults on women in Cologne on New Year's Eve. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Nor is it clear whether any reforms would apply retrospectively to those who committed offences in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.

Mrs Merkel maintained that Germany can integrate the huge influx of refugees in a way that will benefit the national economy in the long term. “We can do it,” she said.

 However, senior members of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) do not share the Chancellor’s sanguine view. The party leadership will hold a policy meeting in the city of Mainz on Saturday.

The far-right Pegida movement is due to hold a rally in Cologne on Saturday. Lutz Bachmann, the group’s leader, is campaigning on the slogan "Rape Refugees not Welcome".

The crisis over the sex attacks by Middle Eastern and North African migrants threatened to divide Europe's east from west.

Political tensions caused by allowing more than one million migrants to enter the continent in 2015 boiled over on Friday, as leaders from central and eastern countries announced the death of liberal Europe and called for the continent to seal its borders.

 “The idea of multicultural Europe has failed,” proclaimed Robert Fico, the prime minister of Slovakia, calling for an extraordinary summit of EU leaders next week to discuss fresh reports of migrant-led sex attacks emerging from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Finland

There is also widespread anger over what many Germans see as a cover-up by the authorities. The day after the mass sex attacks in Cologne, the city’s police said that New Year celebrations had been “largely peaceful”.

For several days, the media largely ignored the story – and the ethnic origins of the attackers were studiously overlooked. The police have now identified about 30 suspects, almost all of them migrants, including five Iranians and four Syrians.

Police have been accused of covering up crimes by the mass circulation Bild newspaper.

Under the headline “Were the police forbidden to tell the truth?” the paper said details of offences committed by migrants are only beginning to emerge iin cities in addtion to Cologne, where a number of sexual assaults took place on New Year's Eve.

The allegations in the tabloid will intensify the refugee crisis engulfing Germany.

In Cologne, the paper reported, the police initially said that there was no evidence that refugees were involved in the crime.

But the log from the riot police said that the majority of the 71 people arrested on New Year’s Eve were asylum seekers, the paper said.

Elsewhere, a high-ranking Frankfurt police officer told Bild, strict instructions had been given not to volunteer information about crimes committed by refugees.

Details should only be disclosed in response to direct questions from journalists.

Questioning from the press in recent days has revealed allegations that two women were raped by Syrians in Weil am Rhein.

A 20-year old Iraqi is accused of groping a number of women in Stuttgart during the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

A spokesman for the provincial government of Hesse, admitted that press officers had been advised to discreet rather than risk triggering a backlash from right-wing extremists.

Women have also complained of facing sexual harassment inside refugee camps, a spokesman for the Cologne refugee council told the Kölnische Rundschau, a local daily.

In Cologne, the city’s police chief was sacked as condemnation continued over his handling of the wave of assaults.

Wolfgang Abers had faced a barrage of criticism over his force’s failure to tackle the attacks on women by groups of men who police described as being of Arab and North African origin.

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