German Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government backed a proposal on Wednesday that will pave the way to deport non-EU foreign nationals who commit crimes, amid the sexual assaults on women on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, which many blamed on refugees.
The draft law by Justice Minister Heiko Maas and Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere will make it easier to deport foreign nationals found guilty of committing physical and sexual assaults as well as resisting police or crimes against property committed using violence, threats or trickery.
The law will not apply to citizens of the European Union.
"Nobody among us should be above the spirit and the letter of the law," Maas said in a statement.
"If they are criminal foreigners, in future they will be threatened with even faster deportation."
If the proposal is approved it should also make it easier to deny new asylum-seekers who are sentenced to at least one year in prison.
Germany, which took in more than 1.1 million asylum seekers last year, has been shaken by the assaults in Cologne and other cities, which has deepened scepticism towards Merkel's "we can do this" mantra in the face of Europe's biggest refugee crisis since World War Two.
Over 600 women had filed complaints for the sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve, as police said their investigations were focused on undocumented migrants from North Africa as well as asylum seekers.
Maas said that the new law, which must first be approved by the Bundestag lower house of parliament, will also help protect the hundreds of thousands of refugees who do not have a criminal record.
"They don't deserve to be lumped together with criminals. Migrants among us must not be put under general suspicion," he said.