NEW: Draft laws have been proposed to allow Germany to more easily deport migrants guilty of certain crimes
Germany has been turning back increasing numbers of migrants since New Year, say Austrian police
Mob sex assaults on New Year's Eve are being linked to the influx of migrants into the country
Germany has announced plans to relax its restrictions on deporting foreign criminals after an unprecedented wave of mob sex assaults in Cologne and other cities on New Year’s Eve.
Germany’s Justice Ministry announced Tuesday that new laws had been drafted to allow it to more easily deport migrants found guilty of crimes causing death or serious injury, sexual or physical assaults, or resisting police officers.
Previously, migrants to Germany could be deported only if they were found guilty of crimes punishable by a sentence of one year or more.
In a statement, the ministry said the new rules would allow authorities to deport criminals more swiftly. The new laws could be passed as early as next month, a ministry spokesman said.
Germany has been reeling after a crime wave in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. Large numbers of women reported being sexually assaulted or robbed by gangs of men of Arab or North African appearance during celebrations in the city center, with some victims saying they feared for their lives.
Cologne police said Monday that there had been 553 criminal complaints stemming from that night, about 40% of which relate to sexual assaults.
At least 31 people, most from North African or Middle Eastern countries, have been charged so far over the attacks, police say. Of those, 18 have been identified as asylum seekers.
Other European cities reported a similar slew of sex crime reports on New Year’s Eve.
‘Rapefugees not welcome’
The assaults have fueled the already heated debate over immigration in Germany, which has taken in the bulk of migrants creating a crisis on Europe’s borders, and have sparked furious protests around the country.
In a rally organized by a chapter of an anti-Muslim organization, PEGIDA, protesters marched through the streets of Leipzig in eastern Germany, on Monday night, blaming the sexual assaults on migrants.
Some chanted “Deport them!” while others waved signs demanding that refugees be sent home.
“Rapefugees not welcome,” read one banner, which showed a silhouette of a woman running from a mob.
A sign read “Islamists not welcome,” while another poster depicted German Chancellor Angela Merkel being groped.
Leipzig police spokeswoman Maria Braunsdorf told CNN that police had surrounded at least 250 right-wing extremists after some local businesses were ransacked. Many wore masks to shield their identity, which is against the law in Germany, she said.
Nearby, counter-demonstrators came out in force to show their support for the refugees. One banner read, “Willkommen in Leipzig” (“Welcome to Leipzig”).
Report: Germany turning back greater numbers
The protests took place as police in neighboring Austria revealed that Germany has been sending an increasing number of migrants back to Austria after the attacks, most of them from North African countries.
David Furtner, a spokesman for the Upper Austria Federal Police, said that since December, Austria and Germany had had a “memorandum of understanding” that they would turn back a maximum of 60 migrants per day.
But since the start of the year, the number of migrants turned back had increased to up to 200 a day.
He said that only a small number of Syrians were among those turned back, with the majority hailing from Algeria or Morocco, and some from Afghanistan.
Furtner said he did not have details on where the migrants went next, saying some may try to re-enter Germany, while others probably sought asylum in Austria.
After police identified some of the suspects as migrants, several foreigners in Cologne came under attack.
Cologne police said a gang of 20 men attacked at least six Pakistani nationals Sunday, with two of the victims hospitalized. Five men later attacked and injured a man of Syrian descent, police said.
Afterward, five men attacked and injured a man of Syrian descent, police said.
Two men have been detained following the assaults on the men, which occurred as Germany grapples with the New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne.
A national debate
The reported assaults have sparked fierce public debate about the wisdom of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal policies toward migrants and have unleashed a wave of anger toward authorities for their response to the attacks.
Sunday marked the first time anger surrounding the incident has boiled over into reported assaults on minority groups.
In an interview published Sunday in Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Justice Minister Heiko Maas expressed his view that the attacks were not opportunistic, but a premeditated and organized assault on women.
“No one can tell me that it wasn’t coordinated and prepared,” he told the newspaper.
Cologne police Chief Wolfgang Albers was fired Friday amid criticism of his department’s handling of the violence.
And Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker has been slammed for advising women to keep “more than an arm’s length” away from unknown men in response to the assaults.
Reker later said her comments had been taken out of context.
Police are looking for 10 to 15 more suspects who allegedly encircled a group of women in Kalmar and groped them, Bruun told CNN.
CNN’s Stefan Simons, Brigitte Venator, Sara Khan and Nadine Schmidt contributed to his report.