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Cologne attacks bolster plans to ease legal requirements to deport foreign criminals

Germany's interior and justice ministers have announced plans to "significantly" lower the legal hurdles to deport foreigners who commit serious crimes. The amendment comes in a wake of the Cologne assaults.

In future, any custodial sentences for violent crimes against another person, whether a physical or sexual assault, should justify deportation in the interest of the state. It would also count against the convict's eligibility to stay in Germany, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in Berlin on Tuesday.

This currently only applies to prison sentences of more than one year. Youth sentences will also be covered, though the changes will not affect motoring offences or negligence.

'Hard but right response'

As the law stands, many asylum seekers who commit crimes also avoid deportation as the danger they face in their home country is often deemed to be greater than the reason for deporting them.

"It's a hard but correct response by the state to those who are seeking protection here, but think they can commit crimes," de Maiziere told reporters.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas said that "criminals in Germany must be consistently held accountable," adding that the aim of the amendment was "victim protection." The change in law should also protect the "vast majority" of respectable refugees, Mass said. "They don't all deserve to be tarred with the same brush as these foreign criminals."

Thomas de Maiziere and Heiko Maas

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and and Justice Minister Heiko Maas announced the amendment in Berlin

Cologne attacks

De Maiziere acknowledged on Tuesday that problems could arise during deportation, especially if a convict's country of origin isn't willing to accept the person or refuses to provide them with a passport.

The changes are yet to be approved by the German cabinet and parliament.

The announcement on Tuesday came almost two weeks since an

alleged large-scale assault on dozens of women in front of Cologne Central Station

during New Year celebrations. Most of the culprits were said to have been of a North African or Middle Eastern appearance.

Change to sexual assault law

Maas also reiterated plans on Tuesday to amend the sexual offences law, with changes which would cover the types of attacks seen in Cologne at New Year. In future, sexual assault or rape would be prosecutable "if a woman could not defend herself because an element of surprise has been exploited ... or because she didn't resist due to fear of more violence."

Women's groups and many politicians have long argued that Germany's sexual assault law is archaic, with loopholes that mean groping and surprise attacks are not necessarily prosecutable unless the woman tries to fight off the attack - which police often advise against.

ksb/jil (Reuters, AFP, epd)

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