Berlin (CNSNews.com) – It is intolerable that migrants from other cultures who are admitted into Germany do not respect the country’s laws, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said this week, recommending that those who took part in sexual assaults during New Year’s Eve festivities be deported.
Speaking in the North Rhine-Westphalia state parliament in Dusseldorf during an inquiry into the attacks in Cologne – which is in the same state – de Maizière criticized the fact that alleged perpetrators could continue their asylum procedures and extend their stay.
“We cannot tolerate the fact that young men who come to us with a completely different socialization from other cultures do not accept the rules in our country,” he said. “They must be prosecuted and – if possible – leave Germany.”
Authorities in Cologne have been investigating cases in which women were robbed, sexually harassed or even raped at the city’s main station last New Year’s Eve.
In the northern city of Hamburg the same day, women were surrounded by men and some were molested. In both cases the assailants were described as “Mediterranean-looking men” – that is, men with apparently North African-Arab features.
Of around 1,200 criminal complaints in Cologne, only 22 went to trial and 11 were finalized, resulting in sentences ranging from 480 euro ($533) fines to 20 months’ imprisonment without parole. In Hamburg, a regional court acquitted three young men who were detained in connection with the sexual assaults.
The incidents triggered nationwide debate on integration and how to deal with delinquent migrants. “There had never been sexual assaults on such a massive scale in Germany before,” de Maiziere told the inquiry.
The issues raised by the events in Cologne and Hamburg are just some of the problems Germany faces as it struggles to deal with a large influx of migrants, seeking to improve immigration controls and security while avoiding casting all migrants and refugees under general suspicion.
Another thorny area has been the rising number of child marriages. In July the central register of foreigners registered 1,475 married adolescents in Germany, with 361 of them under 14.
The relatively large numbers have been attributed to the influx of migrants and refugees since the controversial practice is prevalent in some Islamic countries such as Afghanistan.
German law currently allows marriages of minors aged 16 to 18, but only when one partner is at least 18, with the families’ consent and permission from a court. Marriages under the minimum age may not take place in Germany, but can still be recognized if the marriage occurred before the couple entered the country.
Politicians in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Christian Social Union (CSU) sister party are putting pressure on Justice Minister Heiko Maas to significantly tighten the Marriage Law.
De Maiziere (CDU) has also proposed imposing a 1,000 euro ($1,100) fine on any Muslim cleric who allows minors under 16 to marry.
A government working group is expected to come up with a draft law before the end of the year.
“We need a clear age limit of 18 years in Germany,” Deutsche Welle quoted the group’s deputy chairman, Stephen Harbarth, as saying. “The child's welfare has always precedence over the existence of a marriage for me.”
Maas has remained reserved on the issue, however, since a previous draft proposal only proposed enabling court-ordered annulment of underage marriages rather than a broad prohibition. He pointed out that recognition of marriage is protected by German Basic Law.
Germans’ views of refugees and migrants have also been soured by terror attacks and scares.
Germany has so far avoided major attacks like those in neighboring France and Belgium, but it has suffered numerous smaller attacks by individuals, and several suspected terrorists have been arrested.
In July, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) claimed credit for a suicide bomb attack that wounded 15 people as well as an axe attack in a train by a teenage asylum seeker that left five people injured.
On October 16 two people were attacked in Hamburg and one victim, a 16-year-old boy, was fatally wounded. The attacker has not been caught, and last week ISIS appeared to claim responsibility for the attack, saying it was in response to its “calls to target the citizens of coalition countries.”
Last week, federal prosecutors brought charges against a 19-year-old Syrian man accused of scouting targets in Berlin for a potential terror attack. This week police in Berlin announced the arrest of a terror suspect originating from Syria.
The arrest of another terror suspect in Chemnitz earlier this month caused both calls for increased monitoring of refugees – and criticism of the police for their failure to prevent his subsequent suicide while in custody.
Reactions to the influx and associated issues have not been solely peaceful. Violent attacks in Germany against asylum seekers and third-country nationals almost doubled during the past year.
Further compounding matters as the government grapples with the refugee situation, this week it was revealed that tackling the refugee crisis will be more expensive for the federal government than originally planned.
Next year is now forecast to cost an additional 2.55 billion euros ($2.83 billion) in funding, on top of the already granted funds of 1.16 billion euros ($1.28 billion) this year. The total cost is expected to reach 24.5 billion euros ($27.2 billion) by 2020.