Germany’s Interior Ministry said on Friday that it would lift the ban on the deportation of Syrians to their conflict-ridden homeland from next year if individuals are seen as a security risk.
Five years ago, Germany opened its borders to more than half a million Syrians fleeing a bloody civil war. The German government had banned Syrian deportations in 2012, a year after the conflict began. The law sought to protect Syrians from being forced to return to a warzone.
The move to lift the proscription, backed by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, indicates an increasingly hostile attitude towards immigrants in Germany.
State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior Hans-Georg Engelke made the announcement on Friday. "The general ban on deportations (to Syria) will expire at the end of this year," Mr Engelke told reporters, adding that Germany shouldn’t be a place for criminals and threats.
"Those who commit crimes or pursue terrorist aims to do serious harm to our state and our population should and will have to leave our country."
Boris Pistorius of the SPD, interior minister of Lower Saxony, said that on a practical level deportations to Syria would be near impossible because the two countries don’t have diplomatic relations and the civil war continues. However, he condemned the symbolism of Germany becoming the first EU country to lift the ban. German campaigners also criticised the decision, accusing authorities of political opportunism to appease the far-right.
"The behaviour of the conservative interior ministers is a disgrace for the rule of law and irresponsible in its substance," Guenter Burkhardt of refugee rights group PRO ASYL said.
The decision follows the arrest in October of a 20-year-old Syrian man on suspicion of carrying out a deadly knife attack in Dresden.
Prosecutors said the man, accused of killing one tourist and seriously injuring another, had a history of criminal convictions and was a radical extremist. He had been living under “tolerated” status granted to people whose asylum requests have been rejected, but are banned from being deported.
There are around 90 people with Syrian citizenship in Germany who are deemed extremist threats and could face deportation.
Migration is considered a political minefield in Germany after Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed more than 1.7 million asylum seekers into the country in 2015. While some have valued the contribution of immigrants to the economy, it has also emboldened xenophobic and far-right groups.
More than 5.6 million people have fled the conflict in Syrian since it erupted in 2011, according to the UN Refugee Agency. Some 13.1 million Syrians are currently in need while 2.98 million are in hard-to-reach and besieged areas, the agency said.