Merkel asks Algeria to help speed up return of migrants

(AP)
(AP)

Berlin - German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday asked for Algiers' help in speeding up the repatriation of rejected Algerian asylum seekers to their country of origin.

Berlin and Algiers have in place a mutual agreement governing expulsions of their citizens, "but we have to ensure that it works properly," said Merkel at a press conference with visiting Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal.

German authorities have been calling for greater efficiency in deportation procedures, and the issue has gained urgency given the rising numbers of Algerians arriving in recent months with thousands of migrants seeking asylum.

Earlier this month, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere had pointed to an increasing number of arrivals from Morocco and Algeria in December, describing it as a worrying trend.

Migrants from North Africa have also came under the spotlight following a rash of violence against women during New Year's festivities in Cologne.

German federal police have said nine Algerians figured among 32 suspects they have identified who allegedly participated in the rampage.

Sellal however sounded a note of caution, saying before any deportations, "we have to ensure that they really are Algerians".

If Algerians were indeed among those guilty of participating in the mob violence in Cologne, then "I can assure you that for us, Algeria, as a country and as a people, that is unacceptable," he said.

Berlin is mulling whether to classify Algeria and Morocco as safe countries of origin -- a category which would mean its citizens were unlikely to qualify for asylum.

Merkel said Friday that no such decision had yet been taken on the issue, but that citizens of both nations stood less chance of winning asylum in Germany than those from war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq.

Cracking down on criminals

In the wake of the Cologne violence, Merkel's ruling coalition has also agreed on a deal to make it easier to expel convicted migrants.

The deal, announced by de Maiziere and Justice Minister Heiko Maas, came after Merkel said she backed changes to the law to ensure that criminal migrants are kicked out of the country.

There are two forms of expulsion procedures in Germany.

In the first, migrants are forcibly returned if convicted of a jail term of three years, but only if they do not face any risk to their lives in their countries of origin.

In the second, migrants can have their residency revoked if convicted of a year's jail term, and are therefore required to leave Germany, failing which, they would be forcibly removed.

The coalition deal relates to the second procedure although it must be put to parliament before becoming law.

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