• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3
New Year's Eve sexual assaults
Merkel gets tough as migrants tied to violence
"If the law does not suffice, then the law must be changed," Angela Merkel said on Saturday. Photo: DPA

Merkel gets tough as migrants tied to violence

AFP · 10 Jan 2016, 19:08

Published: 10 Jan 2016 19:08 GMT+01:00

Turning away from her mantra of "we will manage this" over the record influx of asylum seekers that reached 1.1 million last year, Merkel has now backed changes to the law to make it easier to expel those convicted of crime.

"If the law does not suffice, then the law must be changed," she said on Saturday, warning that any refugee handed a jail term -- even if it was a suspended sentence -- should be kicked out of the country.

"Cologne has changed everything, people now are doubting," said Volker Bouffier, vice president of Merkel's CDU party.

Even though no arrests have been made or formal charges laid, Cologne police said those suspected over the rampage near the city's railway station a week ago were mostly asylum seekers and illegal migrants from North Africa.

Some 516 cases have already been lodged, police said, adding that about 40 percent of these related to allegations of sexual assault.


Separately in Hamburg, police said 133 cases have been lodged for similar violence on New Year's festivities.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas said he believed the violence in Cologne was organised.

"For such a horde of people to meet and commit such crimes, it has to have been planned somehow," he told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

"No one can tell me that this was not coordinated or planned. The suspicion is that a specific date and an expected crowd was picked," he said.

The scale of the Cologne assaults has stoked public anger and fear, with a poll published by Bild am Sonntag newspaper saying that 39 percent of those surveyed felt police did not provide sufficient protection, while 57 percent
did.

And just under half (49 percent) believed the same sort of mob violence could hit their hometown, reported the newspaper which headlined its article with the question: "Is the New Year Eve scandal the result of wrong policies?"

With thousands of asylum seekers streaming into Germany every day since last year, Merkel has already come under intense pressure, even within her own conservative alliance, to reverse her open-door policy to war refugees.

Critics have questioned Germany's ability to integrate the massive numbers of newcomers, many of whom hail from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Merkel had until now not wavered from her stance, even using her New Year's address to tell Germans that the record influx is "an opportunity for tomorrow".

Although she has vowed steps to reduce refugee numbers next year, she has not set an upper limit on the number of asylum seekers Germany could take in.

Her plan involves persuading other EU members to take in more refugees, and an EU deal with gateway country Turkey to better protect its borders.

But after Cologne, she has adopted a harsher tone, saying also that "we must speak again about the cultural fundamentals of our co-existence".

- 'Turning point?' -

"It's not premature to speak of a turning point, or at least the reinforcing of a trend that had already started to take shape lately," Andreas Roedder, contemporary history professor at Mainz University told AFP.

Bit by bit, the government has begun to tighten up checks, including reinstating individual interviews in asylum applications for Syrians since January 1, which had earlier been waived.

An advertising campaign is also going on in Afghanistan to dissuade middle-class Afghans from coming, telling them that they should stay and help rebuild their home country.

Balkan states have been designated safe countries of origin -- a category which meant that citizens would not usually be granted asylum -- and Algeria and Morocco could soon join that list.

"After a period of open-arms policy, the time has perhaps come to change the tone. Right now the question is on expulsions, toughening the law, as what happened in Cologne really has a political dimension to it," said Tilman
Mayer, a political analyst at the Bonn University, speaking to Phoenix television station.

Merkel is caught in a bind as asylum seekers are still arriving at the rate of between 3,000 and 4,000 a day, despite the harsh winter conditions.

Several former eastern bloc countries have so far shown no signs of heeding to her call to take in more refugees, with Czech President Milos Zeman in December calling the current refugee influx to Europe "an organised invasion".

Story continues below…

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico also seized on the Cologne violence to hammer home his point against the influx of asylum seekers, accusing politicians of continuing "to trivialise -- even after the attacks in Cologne and other European cities -- the security risks associated with unregulated and uncontrolled migration within the EU".

"The situation could degenerate very quickly for Merkel within the CDU because resistance and nervousness is growing," said Roedder.

Opinion polls are predicting that populist right-wing party Alternative for Germany would win their first seats in three regional parliaments during key elections in March.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Today's headlines
Munich pulls together after shopping mall shooting
Photo: DPA

In the chaos after the Munich mall shooting, city residents spontaneously offered shelter to strangers - a move that Chancellor Angela Merkel said showed that Germany's strength lies in its values.

Merkel deplores 'night of horror' in Munich
Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday said Munich had suffered a "night of horror" after a shooting spree in the southern German city left nine people dead.

Munich shooting
Munich attacker was shy video game fan
People laying flowers at the site of the shootings. Photo: DPA.

David Ali Sonboly was a quiet, helpful teenager who loved playing video games. His neighbours say there were no warning signs before his deadly rampage at a Munich shopping mall.

Munich shooting
Munich gunman inspired by rightwing Breivik: police
Photo: DPA

The lone teenager who shot dead nine people in a gun rampage in Munich was "obsessed" with mass killers such as Norwegian rightwing fanatic Anders Behring Breivik and had no links to the Islamic State group, police said Saturday.

Munich shooting
Turks, Kosovans and a Greek among shooting victims
Photo: DPA

Three Turkish citizens were among the nine people killed in Germany's Munich mall shooting. Three Kosovans were also among the nine victims.

Munich shooting
Munich gunman was likely not Isis terrorist: police
Flowers laid at the Olympia Shopping Centre underground station. Photo: DPA

According to initial investigations by Munich police, the young man who went on a shooting rampage in Munich on Friday evening was a lone gunman without motive, not a terrorist.

Munich shooting
'Lone' Munich shooter kills nine, commits suicide
Photo: DPA

A teenage German-Iranian gunman who killed nine people in a shooting spree at a busy Munich shopping centre and then committed suicide had likely acted alone, German police said Saturday.

As it happened
Nine dead in shooting rampage in Munich
File photo: DPA

Nine people are dead after "at least one person" went on a shooting spree in a Munich shopping centre on Friday evening. An attacker is believed to be among the dead.

German Turkish community split by unrest after coup plot
Pro-Erdogan protesters in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Hatred between supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and those opposed to him has exploded on social media in Germany in the wake of a failed coup attempt last Friday.

Germany stresses defence of Baltics after Trump comments
Photo: DPA

Germany on Friday stressed its promise to protect its NATO allies after White House hopeful Donald Trump called the commitment into question.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Analysis & Opinion
Nice was an attack on France, not on Germany
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
Bavaria train attack: Were police right to shoot to kill?
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
10,808
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd