Berlin (CNSNews.com) – Crimes in Germany linked to asylum-seekers and refugees jumped by 52.7 percent in 2016, according to newly-released statistics that also showed a “significant rise” in politically motivated crimes, and a 7.5 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents.
Five months ahead of a federal election, the most controversial figures released by the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) are those related to the rise in migrant-related crimes – 174,000 criminal incidents involving asylum-seekers and refugees in 2016, compared to 114,000 in the previous year .
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere acknowledging the severity of the crime figures, but also argued that they did not necessarily mean the roughly 1.2 million refugees who entered Germany over the past two years have made the country unsafe.
“We are dealing with a rise in hate, lack of respect and violence in general," the minister told a press conference in Berlin. “We would not reduce that to any particular group – whether left, right, or foreigners.”
Nonetheless, de Maiziere admitted there was cause for concern: “There is no sugarcoating here,” he said, “Among violent crimes, there were one percent more Germans, but 90 percent more migrant suspects.”
De Maiziere said that in many cases asylum-seekers were also victims of crime – including crimes committed by fellow refugees in overcrowded refugee centers.
More than one-third of all non-German suspects were connected to non-violent violations, such as entering or staying in the country illegally.
Still, the figures could provide a boost for the far-right Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party, which saw an initial surge of support over fears relating to security and integration before it dwindled over time as migrant inflows decreased.
Germany has been shaken by deadly terror attacks – such as the killing by a Tunisian asylum seeker of 12 people at a Berlin Christmas market – or violent incidents such as those on New Year’s Eve 2015, when hundreds of women were sexually assaulted and robbed by men believed to be of North African origin.
Ahead of the Sept. 24 election the anti-migrant, anti-Islam, euroskeptic AfD is attempting to reshape its image. It has swapped former lead candidate Fraue Petry with 76-year-old Alexander Gauland, a former member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and Alice Weidel, 38, an openly lesbian former investment banker.
Weidel told party delegates that the AfD was the only party that could protect Germany’s borders and ensure public security.
Markus Ulbig, the interior minister of Saxony state, said many of the crimes committed by asylum-seekers were carried out by a small number of repeat offenders. In Saxony, he said, just one percent of migrants were responsible for 40 percent of the crimes.
Ulbig said he expected crimes among asylum-seekers to diminish as they were moved out of mass shelters and into better living conditions.
Christian Pfeiffer, a criminologist and former justice minister of Lower Saxony state, told Deutsche Welle that rejected asylum-seekers are the biggest concern. He said a failed application cuts the individual off from financial support and essential language courses, leading to anger and resentment.
“There is a kind of a class-based society that emerges among refugees – ones who have good prospects and those who don't,” Pfeiffer said.
The influx of refugees into Europe has also introduced new, difficult issues such as child marriage. Some migrants have entered the country already married to underage spouses, leading to calls for the government to annul such marriages.
Another problem is prostitution. Ralf Rötten, the director of the Hilfe für Jungs (Help for Youth) youth organization in Berlin, told Deutsche Welle that many younger refugees lack support and are forced to find ways to survive such as by entering the sex trade.
The 2016 crime statistics also found a rise in politically motivated crimes, particularly in the form of anti-Semitism, emanating from both Muslims and xenophobic far-right groups. Anti-Semitic incidents rose from 1,366 in 2015 to 1,468 last year.
The Independent Experts Group on Anti-Semitism, a body set up by parliament, reported that Jews are “increasingly concerned for their safety due to everyday experiences of antisemitism.”
About 200,000 Jews live in Germany, Europe’s third largest community after Britain and France.
The rise of politically motivated crimes has also been linked with tensions over the refugee crisis. Left- and right-wing protesters have clashing during demonstrations, and asylum seeker accommodation centers have also come under attack from extremists.
Of a total of 41,549 political crimes recorded in 2016, the far right accounted for 23,555 incidents.
The largest proportion of these crimes (33.5 percent) were not violent but propaganda-related – for example the use of publicly banned symbols.
The number of violent cases, including attacks on asylum-seekers’ homes, dropped slightly but remained high – 4,311 in 2016 compared to 4,402 in 2015.