Germany signals tougher stance on refugees

AHRENSFELDE, GERMANY - DECEMBER 16: Members of the new BFEplus anti-terror unit of the German federal police holds a G36C automatic weapon after taking part in a capabilities demonstration at a police training facility on December 16, 2015 in Ahrensfelde, Germany. The BFEplus, whose acronym stands for Beweissicherungs und Festnahme Einheit, or Evidence Safeguarding and Arrest Unit, is to support the GSG9 police special forces unit in containing domestic terror threats. Germany is on high-alert following the November Paris terror attacks and a credible threat at the Germany vs. Holland football match in Hanover. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)©Getty

Germany is to crack down on refugees suspected of terrorist sympathies and speed up the deportation of foreigners who commit crimes as part of its response to the two terror attacks in Bavaria last month.

It will also copy the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden in checking refugees’ recent social media activity as part of a new security procedure to screen for suspicious contacts or political views.

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Thomas de Maizière, the interior minister, said on Thursday the state had to react decisively to the increasing risk of terror. “No one can guarantee absolute security,” he said. “But we have to do what we can.”

Three weeks ago a 17-year-old Afghan refugee with an axe wounded five people in Würzburg before he was shot dead by police. Six days later, a Syrian blew himself up outside a wine bar in Ansbach, injuring 15. The militant group Isis claimed both attacks.

The attacks raised concerns that Germany may have compromised its security by throwing open its borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East last summer.

Ever since, officials have warned that Isis might have smuggled operatives into Germany under cover of the migrant wave and that some vulnerable refugees are being targeted for recruitment by local jihadi networks.

Angela Merkel, the chancellor, has vowed to stick with her open-door policy despite the attacks. But an recent poll showed her approval rating had dropped by 12 percentage points since the violence. That does not bode well for her CDU party ahead of Bundestag elections next year.

The bulk of Mr de Maizière’s proposals signal a marked toughening of the approach to refugees, especially those suspected to have militant sympathies. One measure would give authorities the right to deport anyone who represented a “threat to public safety” — such as foreign criminals and potential terrorists.

He also said Germany would accelerate deportation procedures for refugees who had committed offences or had links to terrorism.

The minister also promised a crackdown on failed asylum seekers given temporary leave to stay, especially those who supplied false information about their identity.

Meanwhile, anyone with dual nationality who has fought for militant organisations abroad such as Isis will lose their German citizenship.

But he rejected an idea floated by CDU regional interior ministers that Germany ban the burka and dismissed their proposal to abolish dual citizenship.

Mr de Maizière announced plans to increase police numbers by 3,250 and provide the force with more than €2bn in additional funding between 2015 and 2020. Video surveillance would be increased at 20 of Germany’s big railway stations.

He also unveiled a plan for a new agency to research how to fight crime and terrorism on the internet. The issue has been high on politicians’ agenda since it emerged that the gunman who killed nine people in Munich last month acquired his Glock pistol on the Dark Net. The interior ministry plans to set up an undercover unit to investigate illegal arms sales and terrorist communications on the Dark Net.

The government will also improve the social care of refugees, so that any tendency towards radicalisation can quickly be identified and nipped in the bud.

Press reports ahead of Mr de Maizière’s announcement said he would call for a relaxation of Germany’s strict doctor-patient confidentiality rules so medical staff would be obliged to report any patients who were planning acts of violence.

But in the end, the minister said only that he would “enter into a dialogue with doctors’ representatives” to find “common solutions” to reduce terror risks for the population while preserving doctor-patient confidentiality.

France’s interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Thursday that he would meet Mr de Maizière later this month to discuss an international plan to stop terrorists using encryption technologies to prepare their attacks.

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