German minister says deportations possible in Cologne case

German minister says deportations possible in Cologne case

COLOGNE - The Associated Press
German minister says deportations possible in Cologne case

Picture taken on January 1, 2016 shows police arresting a man as people gather in front of the main railway station in Cologne, western Germany. Police in Cologne told AFP they have received more than 100 complaints by women reporting assaults ranging from groping to at least one reported rape, allegedly committed in a large crowd of revellers during year-end festivities outside the city's main train station and its famed Gothic cathedral. AFP Photo

Asylum-seekers could be deported if they’re found to have participated in a string of New Year sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany’s justice minister said Jan. 7.

Although there is little solid information so far on who committed the assaults, police say witnesses have described the perpetrators as being of “Arab or North African origin.” That has been seized on by some opponents of Germany’s welcoming stance toward refugees, after the country registered nearly 1.1 million asylum-seekers last year.

Officials have cautioned it’s important not to cast suspicion on refugees in general. Still, Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in an interview with the Funke newspaper group that “deportations would certainly be conceivable.”

He said the law allows for people to be deported during asylum proceedings if they’re sentenced to a year or more in prison. “The courts will have to decide on the level of sentences, but that penalty is in principle absolutely possible for sexual offenses,” he said.

At least 106 women have come forward to file criminal complaints of sexual assault and robbery during the New Year’s Eve festivities, authorities say, including two accounts of rape.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Wednesday that “anyone who commits serious crimes, whatever status he is in, must reckon with being deported from Germany.”

“If it turns out that refugees were the perpetrators, then they forfeited their right to be guests,” Andreas Scheuer, the general secretary of the conservative Christian Social Union - the smallest party in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government - was quoted as telling the daily Bild.