Why refugees are commiting far less crime

A report this week showed that the number of crimes committed by refugees and undocumented immigrants dropped nearly 20 percent in just three months. The Local looks into why.

Why refugees are commiting far less crime
One of the refugee men taken into police custody after the fire in Düsseldorf. Photo: DPA.

Since numerous women reported being sexually assaulted by non-German men on New Year’s Eve, the topic of crime by refugees has become a heated one in Germany, oscillating between out-right racism and cautious questioning of different cultures.

In the months following, Chancellor Angela Merkel backed legal reforms to make it easier to deport migrants who commit crimes, stories of refugees committing crimes have drawn more attention and scrutiny, and some have speculated about whether bringing in roughly one million refugees would lead to more crime.

So the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) decided to bring some facts into the precarious discussion about migrant crime rates.

“The debate has become has become very emotional. Some say that refugees commit all of the crimes, some say refugees are not committing very many crimes,” a spokeswoman from the Interior Ministry told The Local.

“But the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It is not black and white.”

The results of the BKA report may have surprised some: crimes committed by refugees and undocumented immigrants actually fell by 18 percent between January and March.

But what could account for the sharp drop-off?

Close living quarters create tensions

Experts are cautious to jump to conclusions. This was, after all, the first report of its kind to solely focus on the increase in immigration and its impacts on crime. The interior ministry said it’s too early to call a trend, and the rates could change when they conduct a new report for April to June.

Still, one main reason for the drop in crime given was the changes in living conditions for refugees.

“One factor could be that we had many people living in large shelters where they were in very close quarters, and therefore it was easier for money to go missing, for wallets to go missing, for fights to start,” the interior ministry spokeswoman told The Local.

The most prevalent crimes by refugees and undocumented immigrants in the report were theft, property crimes and committing bodily harm.

“Many people have now been brought into houses to live and there are not as many big facilities. But it is also within three months, and that is a very short amount of time to analyze.”

An example of the adverse consequences of housing diverse groups all together in make-shift accommodation was seen this week when police say several refugees started a fire on a 5,000 square-metre building where they lived with 280 others.

The fire at a refugee home in Düsseldorf. Photo: DPA.

Prosecutors say the men seem to have been upset over disputed meal times during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“You have many different people from many different countries,” said chairman of the The German Police Union (DPolG), Rainer Wendt.

“We saw this in Düsseldorf, and it is of course fundamentally better to bring people into their own housing, albeit not for certain people who are guaranteed to be sent back,” he told The Local.

Deportations and a slowing down of the number of people arriving in Germany may also be factors in the crime rate decreasing, according to the interior ministry source.

The closure of borders by Balkan countries through which many refugees once travelled up north has greatly hindered people’s ability to reach Germany. More than 90,000 people were registered as entering Germany in January, compared to about 16,000 in May.

“When there are more people, there are more crimes, in any kind of figures,” the interior ministry spokeswoman said. “But it is still too early to know all the factors.”

Crime rates among groups vary greatly

Another finding of the report was that refugees most likely to be granted asylum and stay – those coming from war-torn regions of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – commit a disproportionately lower amount of crimes.

On the other hand, the groups committing a disproportionately high amount of crimes came from countries generally deemed “safe” and are therefore less likely to stay in Germany: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Serbia, Georgia and Algeria.

Wendt said that after someone arrives and are told they won’t be able to live in Germany long-term, they may be more tempted by crime.

“They come here and they wait and then are told they have no chance of staying here, but then must wait through processing,” he said. “Most are sent back. Therefore they have nothing to lose.”

Wendt said that groups from Georgia often come, knowing they won’t be able to stay, but to commit theft and burglaries while here.

People from North African countries might be more likely to steal from tourists, if they learned this in the many travel hotspots in their countries, he added.

But Germany has recently put in place stricter rules that may see groups more quickly deported based on where they come from. The German parliament last month voted to block more asylum claims from North Africa, classifying Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria as safe countries. Germany had previously added Serbia, Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro to this list to more quickly deport people.

‘Saying either refugees or Germans are less criminal is stupid’

After the release of the report, an interior ministry spokesperson was quoted in German media as saying that “immigrants are not more criminal than Germans”.

But the interior ministry has since told The Local that this statement was taken out of context because in fact, the ministry says “the world is too differentiated to make black-and-white statements”.

Wendt from the police union agreed.

“The statement comparing Germans and immigrants is stupid,” Wendt said. “You cannot make a blanket statement about refugees, who are many people coming from many different countries.

“There are people who never read the news and only look at Facebook, where they only get the impression that all crimes are committed by refugees… but that of course is not statistically true.

“It’s always false to say either way who is more criminal.”


One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

A 21-year-old gunman opened fire at a secondary school in northern Germany on Thursday, badly injuring a female member of staff before being arrested, police said.

One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

The incident happened at the Lloyd Gymnasium school in the centre of Bremerhaven, a city on Germany’s North Sea coast, on Thursday morning. 

“The armed person has been arrested and is in police custody,” police said in a statement. The injured woman was not a pupil, police said.

They said the suspect had entered the school building and fired at a female member of staff, who was “seriously injured”.

The alarm was quickly raised and police said they detained the suspect at a nearby location soon after and had seized his weapon at the scene.

The injured woman is being treated in hospital.

A video circulating on social media and German news sites appeared to capture the moment the gunman was arrested.

A man dressed in black is seen lying face down on a street corner, with a weapon next to him, before being handcuffed by officers.

But there was no immediate confirmation of reports the alleged weapon was a crossbow.

Bremerhaven police tweeted in the morning that a large deployment was under way in the city centre and asked residents to avoid the Mayor-Martin-Donandt square and surrounding streets, in the vicinity of the Lloyd secondary school.

Local news site Nord24 said a school pupil had heard shots being fired and called the police. Pupils barricaded themselves in their classrooms.

Police launched a large-scale operation and cordoned off the area around the school while they carried out inquiries. 

By mid-afternoon, police said special forces had completed their search and the last people had left the building.

Authorities set up a phone hotline for concerned parents. Many parents had gathered in front of the school after being alerted by their children.

Pupils and staff are receiving psychological counselling.

Local media said only around 200 people were on the school grounds, fewer than normal because of exam times.

In a separate incident on Thursday, police in the eastern city of Leipzig said they had detained a 21-year-old student still at secondary school after being tipped off by Snapchat that he had posted pictures of himself with a gun and made unspecified threats.

The US social media platform alerted German authorities, prompting Leipzig police to take action.

 A police spokesman said that the 21-year-old did not pose a real threat, however, and only possessed an airsoft gun, a replica firearm that uses non-lethal, usually plastic, pellets.

‘Strict gun laws’

School shootings are relatively rare in Germany, a country with some of the strictest gun laws in Europe. But a recent spate has rattled the population.

Last week, investigators in Germany’s city of Essen said they foiled a school bomb assault, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a “Nazi terror attack”.

Police in Essen stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering 16 “pipe bombs”, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material.

In January, an 18-year-old student opened fire in a lecture hall at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany, killing a young woman and
injuring three others before fleeing the scene and turning the weapon on himself.

In 2009, a former pupil killed nine students, three teachers and three passers-by in a school shooting at Winnenden, in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The gunman then killed himself.

In 2002, a 19-year-old former student, apparently in revenge for having been expelled, shot dead 16 people including 12 teachers and two students at a school in the central German city of Erfurt. He too then killed himself.

The Winnenden and Erfurt massacres were carried out with legal weapons and spurred Germany to tighten gun laws.

The country currently requires anyone under 25 to pass a psychiatric exam before applying for a gun licence.