Germany plans to allow the deportation of refugees convicted of crimes to third countries if they cannot be safely returned to their country of origin. It is unclear, however, how far-reaching the new rules might be.
Germany's head of the Chancellery, Peter Altmaier, told the weekly mass-market newspaper "Bild am Sonntag" that the government was working on plans to allow for the deportation of criminal refugees to nations other than their countries of origin, if their home countries were deemed unsafe to return to.
Altmaier, who is also in charge of coordinating Germany's refugee crisis response, said the government's plans would mostly affect migrants who came from countries ravished by war. He said convicted migrants would be sent to the country "from which they had originally entered the EU."
"We are in negotiating with Turkey and with other countries and discussing ways for them to take back refugees from other countries," he told "Bild am Sonntag." He added that in the future even minor transgressions could lead to refugees being sent out of Germany.
The new guidelines could potentially extend to people who might face persecution, torture and capital punishment in their countries of origin. German asylum laws currently do not permit the deportation of people to countries where they face such threats to their personal freedom and lives.
Altmaier highlighted in the interview with the newspaper that 50,000 refugees had been deported from Germany since the beginning of 2015, with many of them originating from the Balkans. Deportations to Balkan nations are generally less legally taxing for German authorities as the countries have been declared safe countries of origin.
Altmaier also told "Bild am Sonntag" that Germany's policy of sending migrants back to safe countries of origin would likely be extended to those arriving from Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco.
Altmaier had to concede that the cold temperatures of winter were part of the reason why the flow of refugees into the EU had slowed down in recent months
"We will be sending unequivocal signals, as we did in the case of the Balkans, telling Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans that it is not worth coming to Germany," Altmaier said.
Altmaier further explained that German authorities had started to measure changes in migrant movements. He said the number of asylum-seekers arriving in Germany via Turkey had decreased significantly by 60 percent.
However, the paper challenged Altmaier on that statistic, saying that the harsh conditions during winter would be the main reason for this, which the minister conceded could be regarded as part of the reason.
Merkel to 'win elections again'
Recent polls revealed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's popularity had fallen to an all-time low, but Altmaier remained confident that the chancellor would successfully weather the refugee crisis.
"We will deal with all the challenges posed by the refugee issue and remain the strongest party and win elections again," he said.
Merkel, meanwhile, announced that she expected most refugees to understand their stay in Germany was temporary, underscoring that the majority of arrivals in Germany had fled violence from the self-declared "Islamic State" (IS) in Syria and Iraq.
"We expect that you will return to your homes when peace returns to Syria and when IS is finally defeated in Iraq," she said at a party meeting in the federal state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
ss/sms (dpa, AFP, epd, KNA)