Foreigners convicted of serious crimes could be evicted from Germany under a draft bill adopted by Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet. The move comes four weeks after New Year's assaults in Cologne.
Merkel's cabinet on Wednesday reacted to lingering outrage over mass thefts and sexual assaults against women by forwarding to parliament a bill seeking to provide German authorities more scope to expel foreigners, including asylum-seekers, for serious offences.
Senior opposition Greens parliamentarian Volker Beck described the cabinet's move as a knee-jerk "pseudo solution" amounting to only the "politics of symbolism" amid Europe's crisis on refugee arrivals.
Germany's Central Register of Foreigners, based in Cologne, lists some 8.2 million foreign residents of which 4.5 million are non-EU nationals, according to the Federal Statistics Office.
The cabinet's move precedes a series of crisis talks in Berlin Thursday that will involve the premiers of Germany's 16 regional states (or Länder) whose municipalities face the task of accommodating asylum seekers.
Merkel's coalition, comprising her conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), is facing mounting voter disquiet over its handling of one million asylum arrivals since last year, with elections due in three key regional states on March 13.
"If it involves criminal foreigners, then they'll face faster expulsion in the future," said Justice Minister Heiko Maas of the SPD (pictured right above).
Cologne prosecutors have said they have 35 suspects under investigation, mainly from northern Africa, and have received more than 900 complaints since New Year's unrest in Cologne, a major city in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Jail term tied to expulsion
The bill, drafted by Maas and Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere (pictured left) of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), foresees deportation for asylum seekers or other non-Germans handed a jail term of one year or more for crimes such as causing bodily harm, murder or rape.
That would apply irrespective of whether a court passed a suspended sentence or sent the person convicted directly to jail.
Currently, a jail term of two years can be used by authorities as grounds for deportation.
"The prevailing hurdles for expulsion were too high," said de Maiziere.
Weighing up interests
A law reform in place since January 1 already allows German authorities to weigh up "expulsion grounds" versus ongoing "residency grounds," for example, if an expulsion would impact on family members also residing in Germany.
Germany's 295 district authorities (or Landkreise) as well as major municipalities administer a decentralized system of registering Germans and non-Germans at local civil registry offices (or Standesämter).
Maas added that Germany should apply pressure on some countries that refused to repatriate nationals who had sought refugee status in Germany.
"We must do everything through binding agreements with the countries of origin to make it easier to ensure actual deportation of criminals," Maas said.
If deportation failed simply because of bureaucratic hindrances, this would constitute an "intolerable situation," Maas said.
Conservative support falling
A new survey of voter trends published Wednesday by the pollster Forsa showed support for Merkel's CDU and its Bavaria-based ally, the Christian Social Union (CSU), dipping one percent since last week to 36 percent.
Bavarian Premier and CSU leader Horst Seehofer recently called on Merkel to limit asylum seeker arrivals to 200,000 per year. On Tuesday, the CSU threatened to take the issue to Germany's constitutional court in Karlsruhe.
Merkel has rejected any upper limit, citing humanitarian grounds, such the UN Convention on Refugees embodied in EU treaties.
The electoral test takes place simultaneously on March 13 in Germany's southwestern states of Rheinland-Palatinate, Baden-Württemburg and the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt.
ipj/msh (AFP, AP, epd, dpa)