Study shows the tenuous link between foreigners, refugees and criminality

It’s a question which has been prevalent in the press and in politics for some time. While groups with vested interests have been quick to heighten or downplay the link between criminality and immigrants - particularly those seeking asylum - a recent study shows the truth is somewhat more nuanced.

Study shows the tenuous link between foreigners, refugees and criminality
A vigil set up following the Kandel stabbing attack on December 27th, 2017. Photo: DPA

“They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists…” With these words, then candidate Donald Trump announced his ultimately successful run for the US presidency, praying on age-old stereotypes about immigrants and their propensity for criminal activity. 

A little closer to home, concerns about crime committed by refugees has been fiercely debated. Right-wing politicians have seized upon news of criminal acts committed by foreigners as a justification for reducing immigration quotas.

At The Local, we’ve debated whether media organizations have a duty to report – or to not report – crimes committed by people from a specific background out of concern of misinformation, fear and ultimately the potential for revenge attacks. 

But the actual issue itself is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a little more nuanced. 

An extensive study into criminal activity of Germans and foreigners, completed by DPA to coincide with the year anniversary of the Kandel stabbing attack on December 27th, 2017, hoped to determine whether concerns over the apparent predisposition of foreigners – particularly refugees – had any basis in fact. 

SEE ALSO: Failed asylum seeker sentenced to 8.5 years in prison for murder amid far-right tensions

Aside from illustrating that the black and white rhetoric of politicians is in reality coloured by a whole lot of grey, the study also highlighted the difficulties in linking background and criminality. 

Lies, damned lies and statistics: Foreigners commit more crimes, but perspective is needed 

In total, foreigners are estimated to account for approximately 13 percent of the German population. In total, foreigners make up 32.5 percent of those convicted of crimes. 

This would seemingly give credence to claims by the far right about the propensity for criminal activity among foreigners – except for uncertainty surrounding the definition of ‘foreigner’. 

The definition groups all non-Germans under the one group, whether they are American tourists heading to Oktoberfest or Syrian refugees. Germany, with a population of 82 million, welcomes just under half of that (37 million) as tourists each year.

The difficulty with foreigners and crime statistics is illustrated with German visitors in neighbouring Austria. Statistics show Germans in Austria are far more likely to be suspected of a crime than Austrians. They're also much more likely to be suspects than Germans in Germany.

The statistics show that an estimated 190,000 Germans live in Austria, while in the same year approximately 10,000 were criminal suspects.

This would suggest one in 20 Germans are suspected of a crime in Austria. Does this mean there’s a plague of Germans running riot across the alps while holding the streets of Vienna hostage?

Probably not.  

The number of Germans in Austria is far higher than the figure of 190,000. Austria is a popular holiday destination for Germans, while plenty will visit just for the day – a statistic which is almost impossible to determine given the open border between the countries. 

Therefore, while the 32.5 percent figure is valid, it doesn’t really represent the criminality of foreigners who actually live in Germany – particularly those usually targeted by the far right. 

Refugees, asylum seekers and crime: An apple and oranges comparison

It is therefore important to differentiate between foreigners and asylum seekers, as well as between ‘serious’ crimes and all criminal activity. In cases of murder, manslaughter, serious assault and rape, asylum seekers, refugees and ‘tolerated’ foreigners – i.e. those whose application for asylum has not been approved but they have not been deported – appear more highly than locals on average. 

In total, around 15 percent of crimes in these categories are committed by asylum seekers, refugees and tolerated foreigners. This is higher than their representation in German society, but also overlooks an ‘apples and oranges’ comparison. 

Individuals in this category of foreigners are much more likely to be men in the ages of 14 to 30. This group of people is highly over-represented in crime statistics generally. One of Germany’s leading criminologists, Dr. Cristian Pfeiffer, told The Local in August “young men are the most dangerous people in every country in the world. In 2014 men between the ages of 14 to 30 made up nine percent of the German population and were responsible for half of all violent crime”. 

Therefore, citing statistics about the involvement of asylum seekers’ having a predisposed likelihood of committing violent crime belies the fact that their age and gender – not their nationality or background – is a far more likely indicator.

Furthermore, the statistics don’t account for repeat offenders, which the study says can skew perceptions on the actual percentage of crimes committed. 

Refugees and criminality? 

Accounting for the above variables, the study concluded by illustrating that refugees are far less likely to commit crimes than the population as a whole. This reflects similar studies conducted elsewhere, which have indicated that immigrant populations on the whole are less likely to commit crimes than locals. 

The question as a whole touches on the debate surrounding ‘expats’ and ‘immigrants’ which we’ve looked at before at The Local.

Therefore – particularly around the dinner table this Christmas – when discussing the link between foreigners and criminality, remember that the debate is coloured by a whole lot of grey. 

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica}
p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica; min-height: 14.0px}

Member comments

  1. I know around Heidelberg the Polizei are not allowed to “report” criminal activity that occurs due to the large refugee burden the city has taken on. There are good people that are unfortunately associated with the one’s that take advantage of the kindness offered to them from a country that was not give a choice in accepting the large herd migration.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


German police foil teenage school ‘Nazi attack’

German investigators said Thursday they foiled a school bomb attack, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a "Nazi terror attack".

German police foil teenage school 'Nazi attack'

“The police prevented a nightmare,” said Herbert Reul, interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state.

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

Some of the pipe bombs found contained nails, but officers did not find any detonators, Reul said.

There are “indications suggesting the young man has serious psychiatric problems and suicidal thoughts,” said Reul.

Material found so far in the suspect’s room include his own writing which constituted “a call for urgent help by a desperate young man.”

The suspect was allegedly planning to target his current school or another where he studied previously.

“All democrats have a common task to fight against racism, brutalisation and hate,” said NRW’s deputy premier Joachim Stamp, as he thanked police for “preventing a suspected Nazi terror attack”.

The suspect is being questioned while investigators continue to comb his home for evidence.

Investigators believe that he was acting alone.

They had been tipped off by another teen who informed them that the young man “wanted to place bombs in his school”, located about 800 metres from his home.

The school, as well as another institution, were closed on Thursday as investigators undertook fingertip searches as the locations to ensure that no bombs had been placed on site.

‘Neo-Nazi networks’ 

Germany has been rocked by several far-right assaults in recent years, sparking accusations that the government was not doing enough to stamp out neo-Nazi violence.

In February 2020 a far-right extremist shot dead 10 people and wounded five others in the central German city of Hanau.

Large amounts of material championing conspiracy theories and far-right ideology were subsequently found in the gunman’s apartment.

And in 2019, two people were killed after a neo-Nazi tried to storm a synagogue in Halle on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

Germany’s centre-left-led government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz took office in December pledging a decisive fight against far-right militants and investigators in April carried out country-wide raids against “neo-Nazi networks”, arresting four suspects.

The suspects targeted in the raids were believed to belong to the far-right martial arts group Knockout 51, the banned Combat 18 group named after theorder in the alphabet of Adolf Hitler’s initials, US-based Atomwaffen (Atomic) Division or the online propaganda group Sonderkommando 1418.

German authorities were also battling to clean extremists from within their ranks. Last year, the state of Hesse said it was dissolving Frankfurt’s elite police force after several officers were accused of participating in far-right online chats and swapping neo-Nazi symbols.