Cologne attacks: Germany to deport refugees convicted of crimes

Cologne: Germany will strip refugee status from convicted criminals and deport them from the country, in reaction to hundreds of alleged sexual assaults on New Year's Eve among a crowd of drunk migrants in Cologne.

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Anti-Muslim protest in Leipzig

Around 2,000 anti-Muslim LEGIDA protesters take to the streets in Leipzig to protest over the Cologne attacks under the slogan "Merkel needs to go!"

The country will also update its sexual assault laws, which have long been criticised for requiring evidence that women resisted or fought back when attacked.

The move came as police revealed another 100 people had come forward with claims of sexual assault or theft in an out-of-control crowd outside Cologne's main train station on New Year's Eve.

The shattered windows of a book shop are boarded over the day after right-wing supporters rioted in Leipzig, Germany.
The shattered windows of a book shop are boarded over the day after right-wing supporters rioted in Leipzig, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

Police said on Tuesday they had to bring in extra prosecutors to deal with the total 653 allegations, of which more than a third were of sexual assault.

Germany is still being rocked by dissent and violence in the wake of the attacks, which have triggered new debate over its generous refugee policies.


On Monday an estimated 2000 anti-Islam protesters marched through Leipzig​, while a group of far-right extremists and football hooligans rioted in the city's Connewitz​ district.

Police arrested 211 people after foreign restaurants were vandalised, and cars set on fire.

A banner with flowers is placed on the steps to the Cologne cathedral says in English and Arabic "sexual harassment ...
A banner with flowers is placed on the steps to the Cologne cathedral says in English and Arabic "sexual harassment against women will not be tolerated".  Photo: AP

Marchers called for Merkel's resignation. One retiree who joined the protest told local reporters he didn't "want my grandchildren to live in a Sharia state", and said he had armed his family with pepper spray in defence against Muslims.

On Tuesday two German government ministers announced in a statement they would reform the law to allow "the expulsion of criminal foreigners, a denial of refugee status if specific offences are committed, and – regardless of the current events – consistent penalties for sexual assaults".

A Muslim woman passes a statue of composer Ludwig van Beethoven in Bonn, Germany.
A Muslim woman passes a statue of composer Ludwig van Beethoven in Bonn, Germany. Photo: AP

Federal Minister of Justice Heiko Maas said no one was above the law and there was "no justification and no excuse" for offences like sexual assault.

"Criminals must be consistently accountable," he said. This approach would protect the "many refugees who are not guilty" of such offences.

"Migrants must not be placed under general suspicion," he said. "We have to protect the many law-abiding refugees who seek safety and shelter with us."

The new laws will make it easier to deport, or to deny refugee status to a criminal who has been found guilty of murder, assault, rape, theft or resisting arrest.

Mr Maas admitted that the country's sexual assault laws had needed updating anyway.

"There's no clear answer in law to how much resistance a woman has to offer for an offence to constitute rape," he said.

He said public pressure following the Cologne assaults had played a role in getting agreement on the new laws, which will now go to cabinet and then the Bundestag, or German parliament.

Chief prosecutor Ulrich Bremer said on Tuesday Cologne police had now received 653 crime reports – 100 more than the day before – in relation to the New Year's Eve attacks.

They had so far investigated 12 suspects, five of whom had been taken into custody, on minor charges.

All the people under investigation are migrants from North Africa – however Mr Bremer said they were suspected of theft, not sexual assault.

Cologne police have now been relieved of primary jurisdiction over the investigation, after widespread criticism of their initial handling of crime reports from the night. Separately, 32 suspects have been identified by federal police, who are responsible for train station security.

Federal police chief Holger Muench said he did not believe the attacks were a symptom of organised crime – police had not found any evidence of "closed groups organised in a hierarchy".

Instead, the groups had arranged on social media to meet up that evening.

Mr Muench said police were investigating a link to "taharrush gamea" – an Arabic term for 'collective' sexual harassment of women by groups of young men, which has been highlighted as a significant social problem in Egypt.

The chairman of Germany's Central Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, warned against generalisations connecting the New Year's attacks with his religion, saying they were "highly dangerous".

The drunk young men responsible were committing a grave sin against Islam, he said. He blamed an atmosphere of "incredible emotion and hysteria" for increasing Islamophobia.

On Saturday, riot police used water cannons against anti-migrant protesters in Cologne. Demonstrators headed by the anti-Islam Pegida movement threw fireworks and bottles at police, and taunted them by asking where they had been on New Year's Eve.

Meanwhile, an Indian man in Cologne reported that he had been injured in an attack by right-wingers intent on scaring away migrants.

It was one of five attacks committed on Sunday evening against foreigners.

Police have also increased their numbers in downtown Cologne at night, stopping people and checking identity documents.

The 154 identity checks found two men from Afghanistan who were in Germany illegally, local media reported.

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