Germany's justice minister says asylum-seekers could be deported if they're found to have participated in a string of New Year sexual assaults in Cologne.

Police say witnesses have described the perpetrators as being of "Arab or North African origin," but there's little solid information on who committed the assaults. That has been seized on by some opponents of Germany's welcoming stance toward those fleeing conflict.

Officials have cautioned it's important not to cast suspicion on refugees in general. Still, Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in an interview with the Funke newspaper group published Thursday that "deportations would certainly be conceivable."

He said the law allows for people to be deported during asylum proceedings if they're sentenced to a year or more in prison, and that's possible with sexual offenses.