The latest events in Germany have once more put a spotlight on crime among refugees and migrants in Germany. However, official statistics tell a different story than the media.
Earlier this week, German police arrested a 40-year-old Eritrean man after he shoved an 8-year-old boy and his mother in front of an oncoming train at Frankfurt's main station, which resulted in the death of the boy.
A week earlier, another man of Eritrean origin was shot at by a man with far-right sympathies in Wächtersbach, a small town about 34 miles (55 kilometers) east of Frankfurt, sustaining severe injuries. The two events appear to be unrelated at this stage of the investigations.
However, there has been a lot more media attention on the incident in Frankfurt than the one in Wächtersbach, prompting questions on whether the German press pays disproportionate attention to news stories, in which immigrants are perpetrators of a crime than those in which they are the victims. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has also started to use the attack in Frankfurt as part of their anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Are refugees in Germany more criminal than the German citizens?
The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) periodically releases reports on criminal offenses in Germany since the onset of the refugee crisis in 2015, examining the percentage of offenders with migrant backgrounds. The study looks at sexual offenses, bodily assaults, thefts, homicides and other crimes not only among asylum seekers and migrants but among all immigrant population groups, including foreigners with a permit to stay in the country as well as persons who are in Germany illegally.
In the most recent edition of the report, published in May 2018, the BKA actually found that crimes rates among immigrants had stabilized after a period of increase in 2015 and 2016, and were even slowly decreasing. The BKA report said that while absolute crime numbers remained steady, the overall crime rate among immigrants went down by about 2%, as further migrants had arrived in Germany (165,000 in 2018 alone). In 2017, around 8.5% of all crimes registered were committed by migrants offenders.
Moreover, the proportion of migrants involved in reported sexual crimes increased slightly from 10 percent in 2016 to 12 percent in 2017 but remained the same in 2018. An interim report in 2019 reports a 6% decrease in the first three months of 2019 compared to the same period the previous year.
Another key finding is that refugees coming to Germany from crisis regions were increasingly less likely to be involved in criminal activities than migrants from non-crisis regions. For example, while Syrian refugees were the highest proportion of refugees and asylum seekers in 2017 – a total of 35.5 percent – only 20 percent of crimes by people with a migrant background were committed by Syrians.
The BKA reports highlight that the majority of crime committed by immigrants continues to be among young, male immigrants typically aged 30 or younger.
Meanwhile the overall percentage of immigrant crime victims is at about 5% of all crimes, according to the BKA's 2018 report. However, while the rate of immigrant murder victims is particularly high among the crime statistic (8% of all murder and manslaughter victims were immigrants in 2018) the rate of sexual assault and rape was comparatively low, with only 2% of all victims reportedly being immigrants. The vast majority of immigrant crime victims (81%) were targets of physical assaults, including arson attacks.
Crime as a political issue
However, when it comes to daily reporting and the public's perception of crime among immigrant communities, facts and figures from the BKA don't always factor in.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had to interrupt his summer holiday to meet with representatives of the security forces and discuss the series of violent incidents in recent weeks, including the attacks in Frankfurt and Wächtersbach, attacks on members of the Left party, and bomb threats against mosques.
"I am deeply shocked by this cold-blooded murder," Seehofer said at a press conference about Monday's incident in Frankfurt, before adding that recent events had created a sense of an "erosion of values" in Germany. "Criminality is falling, but the feeling of safety is still very tense," he stressed.
"I note that some parts of the public have already formed a judgment of this incident," he added, highlighting that judgement should be reserved until the full background of the attack is clarified.
Meanwhile, Alice Weidel, leader of the far-right AfD, tweeted four times about the incident by Tuesday afternoon, blaming the 8-year-old's death on the "borderless welcome culture" throughout Europe.
Nicht mangelnde Sicherheitsstandards sind problematisch, sondern massive Einwanderung Illegaler und deren oft ungeklärter Verbleib in #Deutschland. Kaum Ausweisungen, keine #Grenzkontrollen - die Sicherheit wird grenzenloser #Willkommenskultur geopfert. #Frankfurt #Seehofer— Alice Weidel (@Alice_Weidel) 30 July 2019
The issue is likely going to be further politicized as the case goes to trial. With elections due to be held in three German states later this year, immigration and asylum policies continue to be at the forefront of the political debate in Germany.