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Where next for Merkel's refugee crisis?

As the fallout from the New Year's Eve attacks on German women continues, Chancellor Merkel and her ministers are searching for the way forward.

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    German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a news conference in Mainz Germany, January 9, 2016.
    Fredrik von Erichsen/AP
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German ministers have proposed changes to the law to make it easier to deport foreigners convicted of criminal offenses.

The proposals come in the wake of hundreds of New Year’s Eve assaults on women almost exclusively by immigrant suspects, mostly in the city of Cologne.

Sentiment in Germany toward refugees had already been worsening as 2015 drew to a close, and these latest allegations have exacerbated the situation.

In a display of bipartisanship, conservative Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière and Social Democrat Justice Minister Heiko Maas announced Tuesday a proposal that “sharply lowers the hurdles for the possible expulsion of foreigners who have committed crimes in Germany.”

The proposed law would reduce the minimum sentence for a criminal conviction that allows for the deportation of asylum seekers, or those already granted asylum, from three years to one. It would also introduce other criteria that may merit deportation, including certain crimes against sexual self-determination and against police officers.

The intention is to have the new measures in place in time to apply them to any convictions arising from the events on New Year’s Eve.

“This is a tough, but appropriate response by the state to those who seek shelter here but believe they can commit crimes without facing consequences for their residency in Germany,” said Mr. de Maizière.

Currently, it is much more difficult for Germany to deport immigrants to countries not deemed "safe." Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia – where many of the New Year’s Eve suspects hail from – all fail to achieve that designation.

As a result, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat party is also seeking to reclassify those three countries, thus easing the way for deportation.

“After what happened during that night in Cologne, where young women in particular went through terrible experiences, we in the government are thinking intensely about what could be changed,” said Chancellor Merkel Monday.

The latest statistics indicate that well over 500 women have filed allegations relating to the incidents in Cologne, some 40 percent of which included sexual violations. German authorities stated Monday that that nearly all suspects appear to be immigrants.

More than 200 masked right-wing protesters rampaged in the eastern city of Leipzig Monday night, burning cars, vandalizing buildings, and displaying racist placards.

At the same time, a peaceful anti-Muslim protest in the city centre drew about 2,000 participants, chanting “Merkel must go”.

Government figures show that 1.1 million asylum-seekers arrived in the country last year, mostly from the Middle East, Africa, and Afghanistan.

The German daily newspaper Bild published a poll Tuesday, which indicated that 63 percent of Germans feel their country has too many migrants, up from 45 percent in September.

Indeed, according to Bloomberg, Merkel says she is confronting the “most complex” challenge of her 10 years in power. But she is determined to maintain the open borders of Europe’s Schengen zone, not only because it benefits Germany’s economy but also because it represents a key aspect of the European Union’s ethos and purpose.

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