Drawing conclusions from the attacks in Cologne on New Year’s Eve: The German government has agreed that foreign criminals will be deported significantly faster, announced Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière and Federal Justice Minister Heiko Maas jointly on Tuesday.
In future it will be possible to deport an offender receiving a prison sentence whether or not the sentence is suspended. This applies to crimes involving acts of violence against lives and physical integrity, crimes attacking sexual self-determination and attacks on police officers. Crimes against property can also lead to the offender being deported if violence is used or if the offender is a serial offender. "This is a harsh response, but it is the right response of the state to those who believe that they can seek protection here and then commit crimes in our country without prejudicing their presence here," said Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière.
Federal Justice Minister Heiko Maas stressed that criminals must be rigorously called to account. Where criminals are foreigners, deportation is one consequence. "And that is vital in order to protect the vast majority of innocent refugees in Germany. They do not deserve to be lumped together with criminals," declared Heiko Maas.
Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the swift agreement reached by ministers. The legislation must now come into effect as quickly as possible and be enforced. The government line is essentially to use existing legislation to call those responsible to account, while taking steps to close any legal loopholes.
On German television (ZDF) on Sunday, the Federal Interior Minister reaffirmed that stricter laws themselves will not resolve the problem. "To prevent any repetition of this, we need education for migrants as of the initial reception facilities. We need police on the streets, good investigation results and swift court proceedings. I would like to see the courts dealing more rapidly with violent football fans too. If legislative action is called for on top of this – and I think it is – then we must take that action quickly."
On Saturday, Thomas de Maizière said in the German broadsheet Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, that there can be no question that foreigners who commit serious crimes in Germany and serial offenders will have to leave the country. On top of this, asylum-seekers whose requests are rejected and where there is no genuine reason to tolerate their residence, must leave Germany anyway. "I am already consulting with the Minister of Justice as to what steps we will be taking, and we will take these steps swiftly."
In the Sunday newspaper Bild am Sonntag, Federal Minister of Justice Heiko Maas said that it is already possibly to deport individuals more easily with the laws in place. "I will now work with the Federal Interior Minister to ascertain whether our laws suffice to allow us to deport criminals. If not we will propose changes. To protect the many refugees who are entirely innocent in particular, we must be absolutely rigorous in calling all offenders to account. Nobody in this country must be allowed to place themselves above the law."
Federal Minister for Economic Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, and the Head of the Federal Chancellery Peter Altmaier also advocated a mandatory place of residence for refugees. "Otherwise everybody, including the recognised asylum-seekers will move to the larger cities, where the problems will multiply and we will see genuine ghettos emerging," he said on Sunday (10 January) in the television programme Bericht aus Berlin.
In an interview, Sigmar Gabriel also declared, "The vast majority of those coming to us are peaceful and seek only protection from war and civil war and persecution." It is important to enforce the rule of law, but also to step up education and integration measures. "We have good experience on the labour market with the use of compulsory integration agreements," he said. Similar measures are needed to integrate refugees.
Speaking in the breakfast television programme ARD Morgenmagazin on Tuesday, Federal Minister for Family Affairs Manuela Schwesig stressed that in future sexual assaults can be considered to constitute rape even if the offender does not use violence. The federal states have been considering draft legislation to this end. "It is up to women to decide when and where they want to be touched, and above all by whom," declared Manuela Schwesig. She warned against prejudging refugees in the wake of the attacks in Cologne, but also demanded that the perpetrators be clearly identified and named.
Speaking on Monday in the German breakfast television programme ARD Morgenmagazin, Minister of State Aydan Özoğuz warned that we must not tar all refugees with the same brush and treat them all as suspects. She also said that in the case of sexual assaults "our penalties are not yet sufficient". It is important to send a very clear signal, said the Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration. "We want no crime here, and our protection does not extend to people who come here to harass or assault women or to commit crimes."
Chancellor Angela Merkel already commented last week. She described the New Year’s Eve attacks as "absolutely unacceptable". "They are disgusting criminal acts which no state can tolerate, and which Germany certainly will not tolerate." All citizens, female and male, are entitled to answers, and "we, as state institutions, have the duty to deliver the right answers". If changes to the law are needed, or if greater police presence is necessary, these are necessary answers.
"But we must also discuss the basis of our cultural coexistence in Germany, over and over again," stressed the Chancellor. We must also regularly examine "whether we have done everything necessary in terms of requiring non-German citizens to leave Germany and in terms of deportation, in order to adopt a very clear stance vis à vis those who are unwilling to respect our laws".