German lawmakers have met to discuss consequences following the New Year's attacks in Cologne. All parties have called for updated sexual assault laws to protect victims better, while some called for faster deportations.
In the aftermath of the New Year's Eve sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany's parliament debated new legal measures on Wednesday which would make it easier for asylum seekers who have committed crimes to be deported. Some opponents cautioned against mixing the Cologne attacks with the refugee debate.
Lawmakers in Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), proposed measures which would facilitate faster deportation. CSU General Secretary Andreas Scheuer called for North African countries like Morocco and Algeria to be reclassified as so-called "safe countries of origin," making deportation easier.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has endorsed these proposals.
If the proposed changes go into effect, asylum seekers would be deported for crimes like bodily harm, homicide, rape, and sexual assault - even in the event of a suspended sentence. Sentences of more than one year would significantly increase the possibility of deportation.
According to authorities, 561 police complaints - around 45 percent of them were connected to sexual violence - have been filed in the wake of the Cologne attacks, in which groups of men mainly from North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula surrounded, sexually assaulted and robbed women near the main train station.
"There is no justification and no excuse for sexual assaults against women, and cultural background excuses nothing. On the contrary, it is not even acceptable as an explanation," Justice Minister Heiko Maas, a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), told German lawmakers during the debates.
Better protection for women
Although the ruling and opposition parties differed when it came to deportation proposals, all parties called for stronger sexual assault laws and for better protection of victims. Moves to update the country's rape laws have been underway since last year - months before the New Year's Eve attacks.
Left party leader Katja Kipping criticized lawmakers for narrowing the sexual assault debate to just foreign perpetrators, saying: "the oppression of women is a permanent fixture in all cultures, including the West."
The Green party parliamentary group leader Katrin Goering-Eckardt also accused Justice Minister Maas of dismissing the Green's proposed sexual assault law update last year and of calling it unnecessary.
The debate and public outcry have raised tensions over the mass influx of refugees in Germany. Around 1.1 million migrants entered the country in 2015, with thousands crossing the country's southern border every day.
rs/jil (dpa, Reuters, epd)