Germany will allow deportation of Syrians to their war-ravaged homeland from 2021 if they are deemed to pose a risk to security, an interior ministry official said Friday.
"The general ban on deportations (to Syria) will expire at the end of this year," Hans-Georg Engelke, state secretary at the interior ministry, told reporters.
"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."
The decision was taken at a telephone conference between hardline conservative federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who had long called for an end to the deportation ban, and his 16 state-level counterparts.
The Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left "grand coalition" government, failed in their bid to win a six-month extension of the protections, in place since 2012.
They argued that the precarious security situation in Syria made expulsions there indefensible.
Engelke, standing in for Seehofer who was in quarantine after a coronavirus exposure, told a news conference that an estimated 90 Syrian suspected Islamists were believed to be in Germany.
Calls for a change in stance have been growing since a Syrian man was arrested in November on suspicion of carrying out a deadly knife attack in the city of Dresden.
Prosecutors said the 20-year-old, accused of killing one tourist and seriously injuring another, had a raft of criminal convictions and a history of involvement with the Islamist scene.
He had been living in Germany under “tolerated” status granted to people whose asylum requests have been rejected, but who cannot be deported.
Boris Pistorius of the SPD, interior minister of Lower Saxony, noted that on a practical level expulsions to Syria would remain next to impossible “because there are no state institutions with which we have diplomatic relations.”
But he sharply criticised the symbolic meaning of Germany, which took in more than one million migrants including hundreds of thousands of Syrians at the height of the refugee influx 2015-16, becoming what he called the first EU country to lift the deportation ban.
“That's an exceptional position we don't necessarily need to be proud of,” Pistorius said.