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Artillery Row

Germany is acknowledging the unspeakable

A pattern of criminality is shattering taboos

In spring 2024, Herbert Reul, Interior Minister of Germany’s most populous state(22 million inhabitants), Northern Rhine-Westphalia, said something remarkable: “We have a problem with non-German criminals.” What’s remarkable is not what Reul said but the fact that a centre-right politician from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party said it. Nancy Faeser, Germany’s Interior Minister from the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) — which courts voters of non-German ancestry — also said something which would have been branded far-right provocation just a few years ago: “We have to talk about the rise in crime by foreigners”.

What has moved the Overton Window is a stream of grim crime statistics

These statements may sound benign, but they shatter taboos. German politicos and journalists have long suppressed discussions of why certain groups of foreigners are overrepresented in crime statistics; Section 12 of the official German press code even forbids identifying the ethnic ancestry of criminals to combat “discrimination”. Any references to “crime by foreigners” (Ausländerkriminalität) as a distinct problem were met with charges of xenophobia and racism. What has moved the Overton Window is a stream of grim crime statistics published by government agencies or, just as frequently, leaked to journalists. 

In 2023, according to official statistics, Germany registered 5.5 per cent more crimes than in the previous year. The number of suspects rose 7.3 per cent. 41 per cent were foreigners, an increase of 17.8 per cent. Asylum seekers(a category which excludes Ukrainian refugees)made up 18 per cent of the offenders, an increase of 18 per cent from 2022. 

There were 214,000 violent crimes, a 15-year high and an increase of 8.6 per cent. Robberies were up 17.4 per cent, knife crimes 9.7 per cent. Homicides were up 2.1 per cent, sex crimes 2.4 per cent. Crimes involving knives nearly tripled between 2020 (10,121 incidents) and 2023 (26,230). An internal analysis leaked to the Welt newspaper showed that knife crimes in Northern Rhine-Westphalia shot up 45 per cent over a recent 12-month interval. Other statistics from that state: in 2023, 80.1 per cent of pickpockets were foreigners, as were 47.6 per cent of shoplifters, 47.3 per cent of burglars, 41.6 per cent of homicide suspects, and 37.1 per cent of suspects in violent sex crimes.

The Germany-wide statistics on sexual violence were also sobering. An internal study by the German federal law enforcement agency, leaked to a Zurich newspaper, revealed that asylum-seekers have committed some 7,000 sexual assaults (ranging from groping to gang-rape ) between 2015 and 2023. Although they make up only 2.5 per cent of the population, asylum-seekers made up 13.1 per cent of all sexual-assault suspects in 2021. 

In 2023, there were 761 gang-rapes registered in Germany — almost two per day; 47.5 per cent of the suspects were foreigners. The frequency of such crimes  — which were rare in Germany as late as the 1990s — has hovered between 600 and 800 per year for the past 7 years. The statistics go on for page after mind-numbing (or mind-boggling) page. Berlin’s police chief delivered the upshot: “Bluntly stated, our numbers show that violence in Berlin is young, male, and has a non-German background.” What is straining German law enforcement (and society) is the sheer number of young male asylum-seekers. Germany famously relaxed its border controls in 2015-2016, permitting an influx of some 1.3 million people from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey. Then as now, about 70 per cent of asylum-seekers were male and most are under 35 years old.Current numbers are off this peak but still high: in 2023, 351,000 asylum-seekers entered Germany, more than the population of Germany’s former capital Bonn. Most of these men have no German skills, little education (a 2016 study revealed only 34 per cent could read the Latin alphabet), no experience with alcohol,  and no experience interacting with women not related to them.

They are no longer constrained by their families, and many live jammed into crowded refugee shelters. They can, however, travel freely, and watch pornography on their phones. They soon discover they can buy a bottle of grain liquor (Korn) from any corner shop for €5. With €400 in cash benefits each month, they can afford to indulge. You didn’t have to be an “Islamophobe” or “xenophobe” to see trouble on the horizon. Until recently, however, that’s what you were called if you predicted problems. In the late 2010s, the mainstream German media and political landscape united as one to endorse Chancellor Angela Merkel’s oath that “we can handle” the huge migrant influx (Wir schaffen das). A typical 2016 article in Deutsche Welle entitled “Immigration Reduces Crime” promised to explode the “myths” exploited by “populist rabble-rousers”. Now those “rabble-rousers” include leading politicians. 

German immigration policies have been far to the left of majority sentiment for years

The populist-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party was the only party which opposed Merkel’s open-door policy, which had the effect of tripling its support in mere months. It has now become the second-largest party in Germany as the centre-left fades. On immigration at least, the AfD’s arguments fall on fertile soil: German immigration policies have been far to the left of majority sentiment for years. A 2017 survey by Chatham House, for instance, found 53 per cent of Germans wanted to stop all immigration from Muslim countries. Polls conducted before the recent European elections — in which Germany’s ruling “traffic light” (red-green-yellow) coalition was hammered — showed that Germans’ top concern (74 per cent) was that “crime will increase significantly” (a 22 per cent increase from 2019). 61 per cent feared “Islam will become too strong in Germany” (a 14 per cent increase). In 2017, a poll found 23 per cent of Germans felt “unsafe” in public spaces. By 2024, the figure had nearly doubled to 40 per cent, with 43 per cent of women agreeing. Legendary German midfielder Toni Kroos, a Real Madrid star for the last 10 years, said he lets his teenage daughter roam free in Spain, but would now have doubts about letting her stay out late in a large German city because Germany is “not the same place it was 10 years ago.” In worldwide comparisons, Germany is, of course, still a very safe country, and it has so far forestalled the emergence of dangerous “no-go” areas. Yet crime statistics,along with an ongoing series of spectacular crimes committed by migrants, keep the issue front and centre. Meanwhile, political paralysis and bureaucratic inertia keep current policy frozen in place: In 2023, Germany granted 200,100 people(including 75,000 Syrians) citizenship.

Most Germans are frustrated by this chasm between what they want and what their government is willing to do. However, they can only lodge a protest vote for the AfD or a splinter party. The German Constitution essentially bans referendums and even no-confidence votes, and centre-right parties insist they will not collaborate with the AfD(for now). Germans will thus have to wait until September 2025 for national elections, which will likely install a centrist coalition which will be unable or unwilling to adopt major reforms. Meanwhile, alarming crime numbers will keep being published –or leaked. A deep desire for stability is encoded in the DNA of post-war Germany, but the next few years will see it tested to its limit.

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