The murder of a 14-year-old girl in Wiesbaden, near Frankfurt, in late May shocked many in Germany. According to police, a 20-year-old man from Iraq, who failed in his bid to claim asylum in Germany, confessed to the crime at the weekend, just days after girl’s body was discovered.
The case has drawn particular attention because the killing of the girl, identified only as Susanna F, is one of several highly-publicized cases in recent months in which girls and women have been murdered by non-German men, some of whom arrived in the country as asylum seekers. German media outlets have focussed on these cases, having been stung by criticism that they are ignoring violent crimes by asylum seekers.
Issues around asylum, integration, and crime have been fiercely debated in Germany since the government’s humane response to Europe’s crisis in 2015.
Yet just as it is dishonest to pretend that asylum seekers are incapable of committing crime, singling out cases where the perpetrator is an asylum-seeker or Muslim risks furthering a xenophobic anti-Muslim and anti-refugee agenda. It ignores the fact that in Germany – like other countries – women and girls frequently face violence committed by abusers of all faiths and backgrounds. An estimated 22 percent of German women face violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime and 7 percent experience sexual violence perpetrated by a stranger.
Germany has a right to deport foreign criminals, as long as doing so does not expose them to the risk of torture, persecution, or breach family rights. In the case of the suspect in Susanna F’s murder, Germany rightly decided to pursue the case against him in Germany rather than Iraq where he may have faced the death penalty.
German chancellor Angela Merkel said this week that Susanna F’s murder “shows how important it is that the people who have no permit to stay quickly receive their administrative court proceedings and can be quickly sent back home”. Safe returns following fair procedures can send a signal that the asylum system is working.
But what is most important is that Susanna F’s murderer – and all those responsible for violence against women in Germany – are brought to justice, regardless of the background of the perpetrator and victim, and that the criminal justice system is seen to be working, fairly and efficiently.