German ministers propose easing deportations of foreign convicts


Ministers in the cabinet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday proposed making it easier to deport foreign residents and asylum seekers who commit crimes. The initiative comes after a series of sexual assaults and thefts in German cities linked by police to asylum seekers have inflamed a debate in Germany and Austria about reducing the migrant influx and imposing caps on the numbers of people allowed to enter each year.

The proposals put forward by German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and Justice Minister Heiko Maas will apply to foreign nationals who commit crimes such as bodily harm, homicide, rape, sexual assault or serial larceny. Foreign convicts of such crimes sentenced to at least one year of incarceration will in the future be faced with deportation.

The previous law had stipulated that the relevant sentence would be at least two years and in principle, the new proposal would apply to even shorter sentences, even if the sentences were suspended. The government had only recently made headway on a reform of the deportation law.

Since January 1, a system has been put in place that weighed the state's "interest of deportation" – for example, in the case of criminal behaviour by a foreign national – against a refugee's "residence interest" such as family circumstances. "This is a hard, but correct answer by the state," said de Maiziere, adding that the proposal could also be the cornerstone of much-needed legal reform.

According to Maas, "criminals have to be consistently brought to justice in Germany." The ministers aim to put forward a bill on the matter soon, with de Maiziere expressing the hope to bring the proposal before the cabinet this month. In addition, the government is seeking to push through an older project that has been in committee since the summer to intensify sexual assault laws.

In light of the Cologne assaults, the governing coalition is also debating the introduction of a fixed abode requirement for recognised refugees in order to prevent large numbers of refugees moving to large cities and forming "ghettos". Germany's previously open migration policies has caused friction with neighbouring Austria. "What is needed here is a renunciation of the limitless 'welcome culture,'" Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leiter was quoted on Tuesday as saying by Austria's Krone newspaper.

The comment was a reference to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision last year to suspend the vetting of Syrian migrants, thereby allowing 1.1 million people to enter Germany in 2015. Germany has since reimposed a degree of vetting, rejecting migrants who plan to seek asylum elsewhere and sending those back that have already registered in another European Union member state.

But the news has not reached the many thousands of people working their way through Central Europe, meaning some will make it to Austria only to find they can proceed no further. German police confirmed on Monday that border authorities are denying entry to about 200 migrants a day and sending them back to Austria. This marks a change from last year, when a much smaller number was being sent back each day.

Mikl-Leiter urged a meeting between Merkel and her Austrian counterpart, Werner Faymann, to discuss the increasingly unco-ordinated response to the influx, Krone newspaper reported. In an interview published Monday, Faymann told Krone that his government planned to reduce the numbers of migrants entering Austria by rejecting economic migrants at the border.

"We need our places for refugees fleeing war," he said. "This will not come about as a result of agitation, but through concrete measures at our borders." On Wednesday, the German Bundestag is set to debate a judicial and legislative crackdown on sexual assault committed by asylum seekers.    (dpa)

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