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Germany to strip dual national militia fighters of citizenship

Germany plans to strip dual nationals who fight for a foreign militant group of their German citizenship, the government said Monday, as Western nations eye the return of IS jihadists warily.

Germany to strip dual national militia fighters of citizenship
Syrian and German passports. Photo: DPA

“There are plans to introduce a legal amendment, for Germans with multiple 
nationalities who fight for a terror militia, to lose their German citizenship,” said interior ministry spokeswoman Eleonore Petermann. 

Justice Minister Katarina Barley has separately said that the change would be “implemented soon”, her spokeswoman said.

Under German law, individuals with more than one nationality can already lose their German citizenship if they fight for a foreign army without permission from the German defence ministry.

The amendment would therefore add participation in combat for a foreign militant group to the existing law.

The new rule would also only apply under strict conditions — the individual must be above 18 years of age, and have more than one nationality, so that he or she would not be left stateless after losing the German citizenship.

The legal change will not apply retroactively, meaning that German IS fighters who are already jailed will not be affected.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert rejected claims that 
the amendment would leave dual nationals feeling like “second-class citizens”.

“We must not forget what this is about,” he said.

“This is about concrete participation in combat operations for a terror militia abroad,” he said. Merkel's government had committed to examining such an amendment during their coalition negotiations last year, he noted.

With the Islamic State organisation crumbling, many European countries are  now being confronted with the urgent question of what to do with returning 
fighters.

Britain recently sparked uproar when it decided to strip a teenage girl of her nationality, arguing that she could obtain Bangladeshi citizenship through her mother, a claim the government in Dhaka has rejected.

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IMMIGRATION

Germany to allow deportations of ‘suspect’ Syrians

Germany said Friday it would allow deportation of Syrians to their war-ravaged homeland from 2021 if they are deemed a security risk, five years after a massive refugee influx.

Germany to allow deportations of 'suspect' Syrians
A flight deporting refugees leaving from Baden airport on Thursday. Photo: DPA

The EU's biggest economic power and most populous member allowed in hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Syria's devastating civil war in 2015-16 but security officials said it was time to lift blanket protections
against expulsion.

“The general ban on deportations (to Syria) will expire at the end of this year,” Hans-Georg Engelke, state secretary at the interior ministry, told reporters.

“Those who commit crimes or pursue terrorist aims to do serious harm to our state and our population should and will have to leave our country.”

The decision, which drew vehement criticism from human rights groups, was taken at a telephone conference between federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, a hardline conservative who had long called for an end to the deportation ban, and his 16 state-level counterparts.

READ ALSO: Germany plans to deport 'dangerous' Syrian criminals

The Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left “grand coalition” government, failed in their bid to win a six-month extension of the protections, in place since 2012.

They argued that the still precarious security and humanitarian situation in Syria made expulsions there indefensible.

'First EU country'

Engelke, standing in for Seehofer who was in quarantine after a coronavirus exposure, told a news conference that an estimated 90 Syrian suspected Islamists were believed to be in Germany.

Calls for a change in stance have been growing since a Syrian man was
arrested in November on suspicion of carrying out a deadly knife attack in the city of Dresden.

Prosecutors said the 20-year-old, accused of killing one tourist and seriously injuring another, had a raft of criminal convictions and a history of involvement with the Islamist scene.

He had been living in Germany under “tolerated” status granted to people whose asylum requests have been rejected, but who cannot be deported.

Boris Pistorius of the SPD, interior minister of Lower Saxony, noted that on a practical level expulsions to Syria would remain next to impossible “because there are no state institutions with which we have diplomatic relations”.

But he sharply criticised the symbolic meaning of Germany becoming what he called the first EU country to lift the deportation ban.

Germany took in more than one million migrants including tens of thousands of Syrians at the height of the refugee influx 2015-16 when several EU member states shut their borders to asylum seekers.

'Disgrace'

The German foreign ministry has described conditions in Syria as “catastrophic” and noted that its nationals continue to be “exposed to dangers when they return” to their home country.

Government forces have regained control of large swathes of territory once held by rebels and Islamist groups, but opponents of the Assad government still face torture and death, according to human rights organisations.

However as Germany heads into a general election year to replace Merkel after 16 years in power, conservative politicians seized on the issue amid concerns among some voters about the security risk posed by refugees.

READ ALSO: German interior minister rules out deportations to Syria

“In such a situation, you can't tell the German population on the issue of whether someone poses a danger… that it is taboo to even think about sending them home,” Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann told the news conference.

German campaigners slammed the decision, calling it opportunistic and driven by political interests.

“The behaviour of the conservative interior ministers is a disgrace for the rule of law and irresponsible in its substance,” Guenter Burkhardt of refugee rights group PRO ASYL said in a statement, calling it a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Syria's war, which broke out after the brutal suppression of anti-government protests in 2011, has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced millions.

Germany has launched several criminal cases over alleged war crimes in Syria under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity and war crimes.

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