Much of the debate surrounding how open Europe should be to migrants circles around fears that an influx of asylum seekers will mean a rise in crime. That assumption seemed to be borne out by a recent study in Germany, which attributes most of the 10.4% rise in reported violent crimes in Lower Saxony in 2015-16 to recently arrived migrants. According to the study, migrants were responsible for 90% of the increase.
This may come as unwanted news to the CDU and SPD, which lost a significant chunk of their vote to the far-right AfD, just as they are trying to form a coalition government. But there are a few caveats worth noting. For instance, the rise can be partly explained by the fact that people are twice as likely to report violent crime when it is committed by foreigners than by German nationals.
When these factors are taken into account, the report’s findings don’t clash much with the consensus established by other studies on the subject: that there is no correlation between migration and crime. For instance, perhaps the most authoritative study on the subject to date looked at forty years of empirical evidence covering 200 metropolitan areas in the US. According to the study’s result, “immigration does not increase assaults,” and violent crime is “lower in places where immigration levels are higher.”
The London School of Economics came to the same conclusion when it studied crime levels during two waves of mass migration – that of asylum seekers in the late ’90s and after 10 new states acceded to the EU in 2004. The LSE found “no observable effect on violent crime for either wave.” The report concluded that “focusing on the limited labour market opportunities of asylum seekers could have beneficial effects on crime rates” – underscoring the fact that what we choose to study tells us as much about the prejudices we bring to the table as it does about the data themselves.
For instance, a key takeaway from the German study is the fact that people are twice as likely to report crimes committed by foreigners than by nationals. This, in turn, suggests that native-born criminals are far likelier to get away with crime than foreign ones are. Likewise, this logic applies to crimes committed by those at the highest levels of power – who are rarely punished to the same extent as those at the lower rungs of society. Take, for example, a country like Albania, where parliamentary immunity ensures that those responsible for high-level corruption remain above the law. According to an Open Society Foundation study, Albania is effectively run as a joint enterprise between the political class and organised criminals: corrupt politicians frequently draft their cronies into public institutions like the judiciary, who in turn a blind eye to the role played by criminal gangs in getting politicians elected. In return, the criminals are allowed to carry out extortion, drug trafficking, and other illegal ventures with impunity.
Nearby Montenegro is another prime example of the hand-in-glove relationship between politicians and criminals. Only in Montenegro’s case, the hand and the glove belong to one man: Milo Djukanovic. Having ushered the tiny Adriatic state into NATO in 2016, Djukanovic now has his mind set on bringing Montenegro into the EU. To do this, he will have to return to politics, which he has hinted he might do by running for president next year, making it his second term in that office following four terms as prime minister. Under his watch, Montenegro has acquired the reputation as a playpen for Balkan crime gangs who have used its poorly secured ports to smuggle cocaine, cigarettes and other contraband into Europe. Djukanovic has not only turned a blind eye to these activities, but has actively participated in them himself, according to investigators who linked him to a billion-dollar cigarette smuggling operation involving the Italian mafia in the 1990s.
In light of the above, one wonders whether Europeans would not be better served if, rather than asking how well migrants can integrate with European respect for the law, they asked those questions of some of its prospective member states in the Balkans instead.