Refugees in eastern Germany ‘10 times more likely’ to be hate crime victims: report

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Daniel Wighton - [email protected]
Refugees in eastern Germany ‘10 times more likely’ to be hate crime victims: report
Germans at a rally in Chemnitz. Image: DPA

Violence against refugees is been far more prevalent in Germany’s eastern states, with asylum seekers in the former east ten times more likely to be victims of hate crimes. New research has shed light on the phenomenon, in the process debunking much of the established wisdom on xenophobia in western countries.


A study released Monday by the Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) has illustrated not only on the prevalence of violent attacks against migrants, but on the underlying factors which may increase the likelihood of these attacks taking place. 

The researchers, looking at ‘hate crime' incidents from 2013 to 2015, found that new asylum seeker arrivals were ten times more likely to be attacked in former East Germany than they were in the former West.

In comparing the underlying features of areas where refugees were more likely to be victims of hate crimes, the study showed that the region’s lack of experience with foreigners was more likely to increase the chance of a violent attack. 

SEE ALSO: A portrait of Cottbus, the town that stopped accepting refugees

Martin Lange, an economist with the ZEW’s Labour Markets and Human Resources Department, told The Local that the findings showed a clear link between areas which had historically been exposed to fewer foreigners and an increased likelihood of hate crimes.

In areas where more foreign-born residents lived, the likelihood of attack was minimised. 

Lange said that while the researchers expected there to be some discrepancy between the regions, the extent of the difference was ‘striking’. 

“We were expecting to find more attacks against asylum seekers in the east than in the west - other studies have found that already and it was being reported in the newspapers, so we had the feeling we would see that in the data too,” he said. 

“Regarding the distribution of the attacks, that was striking because we could not immediately see a pattern”.

Prevalence of ‘hate crimes’

In order to get to the bottom of the issue and cut through some of the sensationalist reporting on the matter, the researchers first looked to the prevalence of violent incidents throughout Germany. The researchers had a focus on arson, hate speech, Swastika graffiti and physical assaults.

The study showed that the prevalence of these acts against refugees is much more frequent in the country’s east. In comparable regions of the former east in terms of refugee intake, there are on average two to three hate crimes per year per 100,000 local residents. 

SEE ALSO: How Chemnitz is showing there's more to eastern Germany than far-right extremism

In the former west, this figure ranges between 0.4 and 0.6 incidents per 100,000 residents. 

After unearthing the ‘what’ of the data, they then set about finding out the ‘why’. 

Hate crimes against asylum-seekers. The above map shows the prevalence of hate crimes across Germany, with a concentration in the former east. Data: GEW. Image: DPA

Economic connection minimal

While economic factors have often been blamed for the rise of nationalism and xenophobic attitudes in Germany and abroad, the researchers found that the link between economic factors and violent acts against refugees in Germany was minimal. 

Although the authors were careful to point out that the lack of a connection between hate crimes and economic factors doesn’t preclude a link to negative attitudes and economics generally, the connection may in fact be overstated. 

“Our study doesn’t claim that there is no correlation between economic deprivation and hate crimes at all," said Lange. "We found no correlation with (economics) and hate crime directed at asylum seekers."

"If you’re looking at xenophobic and anti-immigration attitudes in general, there very well might be a correlation with economic drivers,” Lange said. 

Germany’s strong current economic performance could also be a factor in minimising this connection, even though it may be valid elsewhere. 

“You have to also keep in mind that unemployment rates have been decreasing for years in Germany and Germany’s economy is doing very good at the moment," Lange said. "That might also contribute to why we couldn’t pick up any correlation."

A history of xenophobia?

The research also illustrated a connection between areas which had historically exhibited xenophobic attitudes and those that continued to do so.

These attitudes remained far more common in the former east and the research therefore illustrated that xenophobic attitudes are hard to change. 

“The increase in hate crime is also linked to xenophobic attitudes that had already existed in the respective regions and which now seem to have become entrenched,” said Lange.

“In some cases, a small number of asylum seekers moving to a particular region is already enough to trigger a rise in hate crime.”

A far-right rally in Cottbus, Brandenburg. Image: DPA

The future of refugee integration in Germany

The research was based on data from 2013 to 2015, which was the height of the migrant ‘crisis’.

Since then, attitudes towards refugees have softened in some parts of the country.

In other areas, however - particularly in areas like Cologne or Chemnitz where refugees have been charged or accused of criminal conduct - could these attitudes have become more negative?

Lange said that despite a number of high-profile incidents taking place since the conclusion of the study, the findings still represented a high-water mark for violent incidents against refugees. 

“We see a steep increase in hate crimes in the regional data (2013 to 2015). In the aggregate data attacks seem to flatten out in 2016 and then to decrease in 2017 and 2018,” he said. 

READ: New reporting centre established to federalise the battle against anti-semitism in Germany

Lange said that the decline in hate crimes was likely to confirm rather than contrast the study’s findings. 

“It may mean that there are less attacks on asylum seekers now because people are more used to the situation and maybe come into contact with asylum seekers more often.”

The research however illustrated that while those in areas less familiar with foreigners may be more hostile to new arrivals, policy makers should still pursue a course of refugee integration in these areas. 

“The solution cannot be just not allocating asylum seekers to the east because these areas have a low share of foreigners... Allocating asylum seekers to places with limited immigration experience should be done with care (and include government) support for the local population," he said. 

The European ‘migrant crisis’

Refugee migration to Europe increased significantly from 2013 to 2015. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s promise to suspend the ‘first country rule’ under the Dublin Regulation and the outpouring of ‘Willkommenskultur’ across the country made Germany the preferred destination for a large share of the migrants.

While the reaction of the German public was by and large positive under Chancellor Merkel’s ’Wir schaffen das’ (We can do it) promise, isolated incidents of violence towards new arrivals also captured public attention. 

The reasons for the violent outbreaks were many and varied, with some blaming poor economic conditions and others arguing that dormant German xenophobia was to blame. 


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