Study shows the tenuous link between foreigners, refugees and criminality

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
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.

“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. 

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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.

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