Hardly a month has gone by in the past couple of years without crimes involving refugees making headlines in Germany, prompting many — especially among the populist far-right — to assert that migrants are making the country less safe. An extensive study published Wednesday came up with hard facts showing exactly that.
The 103-page report, commissioned in early 2017 by the German ministry for family affairs, also points out that specific categories of migrants are more to blame for the crime wave. The experts advocate more comprehensive integration policies and allowing family reunification for refugees to deter asylum seekers, many of whom are young men, from violent acts.
Just days before Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, its conservative Bavarian sister party, the CSU, and the center-left Social Democrats are due to enter uneasy three-way coalition talks to form a government, the study’s findings are likely to be selectively seized upon both by anti-immigration politicians as well as by pro-refugee left-wingers.
In particular, the study, carried out by three renowned criminologists from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, found that migrants are overwhelmingly responsible for a rise in violent crime recorded in the state of Lower Saxony in recent years after years of steady decline. According to police data compiled by the three experts, the number of violent crimes surged by 10.6 percent in this northwestern German state between 2014 and 2016 — the years during which more than 1 million asylum seekers entered Germany. A whopping 92.1 percent of this increase is directly attributable to asylum seekers, the survey found.
However, the experts were quick to note that those sobering figures came with significant caveats that may somewhat distort the picture. Crimes committed by immigrants are reported to the police twice as often as those committed by Germans, and the survey relies solely on registered crime data.
Furthermore, the experts say, the coexistence of refugees from various countries and cultural backgrounds in overcrowded shelters may have nurtured violence. And refugees are disproportionately victims of crime, too. They account for 91.1 percent of homicide victims and three-quarters of the most serious victims of bodily harm.
But those findings, which the experts said can be safely extrapolated for the whole of Germany, are falling on a fertile ground of heightened suspicion against refugees. Just last week, a teenage failed asylum seeker from Afghanistan stabbed his German ex-girlfriend to death in a small-town drugstore outside of Karlsruhe. The murder horrified Germany and sent many politicians scrambling for calls for more scrutiny — the Afghan boy says he is 15; the victim’s father says he is older and only claims to be under 18 so he won’t be deported.
The Bavarian CSU, which generally advocates a more hardline approach towards immigration than the chancellor’s CDU, has demanded the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Germany be subjected to compulsory medical tests to ascertain their age. “Particularly since numerous privileges such as much more complex care and a deportation ban are tied to the status of being a minor,” CSU lawmaker Stephan Mayer said earlier this week. These calls were echoed by the far-right party Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which rode a wave of discontent over Ms. Merkel’s generous asylum policy in recent years and entered the Bundestag following September’s federal election.
The CSU, which lost many voters to the AfD and is keen to win them back ahead of a crucial state election in Bavaria later this year, is currently holding a two-day convention before entering coalition talks with the CDU and the SPD on Sunday. The Bavarian party called this week for asylum seekers’ benefits to be slashed to the bare minimum to cover just their “basic needs” for up to 36 months.
“The higher the proportion of women among the refugees, the less violent the men are.”
But others have dismissed the suggestion as misguided. “A cut in benefits would only increase the incentive to resort to undeclared work or become a criminal,” said Herbert Brücker, an immigration expert for the IAB Institute for Employment Research. Mr. Brücker called the suggestion “wrong and constitutionally doubtful.” Criticism also came from the SPD, suggesting that immigration and refugees will be a potential sticking point in the upcoming coalition talks.
Yet, the criminologists’ groundbreaking study brings more insight into the debate. It identifies which migrants are most likely to become violent and comes up with possible solutions — some of which might not go down well with every politician. The experts note that young, mostly male refugees traveling alone are more likely to commit crimes if they feel they have no hope about their future in Germany. In particular, migrants from North Africa were singled out as much more prone to violence than refugees from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, who have higher chances to obtain asylum in Germany.
“Every other North African refugee is between 14 and 30 years old and male. This is always the most dangerous demographic in every country in the world,” said Christian Pfeiffer, one of the co-authors of the study and a former Lower Saxony justice minister. “The young guys are the problem.”
The experts also recommend doing everything possible to integrate refugees into society as quickly as possible, particularly through women, to avoid all-male ghettos where aggressive attitudes dominate. “The higher the proportion of women among the refugees, the less violent the men are,” Mr. Pfeiffer said, adding that “women have a pacifying effect and civilize.” To achieve this aim, the researchers advocate family reunification — precisely one of the topics that caused the first coalition talks to fail last November.
Jean-Michel Hauteville is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. Handelsblatt reporters Frank Specht and Michael Scheppe also contributed to this story. To reach the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.