Germany's ruling party has proposed stricter laws to regulate refugees after a series of sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year's Eve blamed on foreigners.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said the proposals, which will need to be discussed with coalition partners and would require parliamentary approval, would allow Germany to deport "serial offenders," AP reported.
"This is in the interests of the citizens of Germany, but also in the interests of the great majority of the refugees who are here," Merkel said at a party meeting in Mainz.
More than 121 cases of sexual harassment and theft were reported by women in Cologne in the days after New Year's Eve. At least two cases of rape were also reported.
Victims’ description of the perpetrators being of “Arab or North African” descent led many to claim the attackers were refugees, adding fuel to the flames of the already sensitive issue of immigration in Germany (the refugee crisis has seen more than 1.1 million refugees arrive in the country).
"If people act outside the law ... naturally there must be consequences," Merkel said.
Following the incidents, there have been protests by both far-right groups calling for tighter regulation of migrants, and people calling for greater protection for women in the city.
Of 31 suspects temporarily detained for questioning, 18 were asylum seekers but two were Germans and one was American. None of them were accused of specifically committing sexual assaults and police said the investigation was ongoing.
The city’s chief of police Wolfgang Albers was relieved of his duties amid mounting criticism of the handling of the incidents.
Merkel said local authorities must not be perceived to be withholding information and urged that the case be "fully clarified," according to AP.
"Everything has to be put on the table," she said.
The proposal was passed by party leaders and would give police the ability to conduct checks of identity papers, and also to exclude foreigners from being granted asylum if they had been convicted of crimes or put on probation.
"Serial offenders who consistently, for example, return to theft or time and again insult women must count on the force of the law," Merkel said.