The German government has backed plans to exclude three North African countries from a list of states whose citizens cannot qualify for asylum, following the New Year's Eve attacks in Cologne.

The move comes amid increasing criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel for policy of welcoming refugees to Germany, which saw more than one million refugees and migrants enter the country in 2015. Merkel's cabinet approved the restriction on asylum applications from refugees from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, unless individuals can show that are being singled out for persecution, as well as the rights of refugees to bring family members to Germany.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, announcing the measures, said: "We want fair procedures for all. But we want those who do not need protection to leave our country again quickly."

Previously, the government passed new laws making it easier for authorities to deport asylum seekers found guilty of serious crimes. The new laws come after police arrested several men of North African origin on suspicion of carrying out mass sex attacks and robberies on the streets of Cologne during the city's New Year's Eve celebrations.

In its effort to restrict the flow of refugees into the country, the German government reclassified several Balkan countries as safe in 2015, which resulted in a drop to 1,400 people from the region entering the country in December, 2015, from a high of approximately 25,000 per month earlier in the year.