Immigration and Crimes against Natives: The 2015 Refugee Crisis in Germany

Yue Huang and Michael Kvasnicka

IZA Discussion Paper Series, No. 12469 (2019)


During the 2015 refugee crisis, nearly one million refugees settled in Germany, raising concerns that the influx of refugees would lead to more crime against natives. Previous studies investigating the impact of refugees or migrants on crime do not use actual rates of victimization of natives by refugees or foreigners, but inappropiately rely on crude crime or victimization rates. Included in the latter are crimes committed by foreigners against foreigners, crimes committed by natives against natives, and crimes by natives against foreigners. The authors draw on novel county-level data on regional refugee distributions and regional measures of criminal activity of immigrants (refugees) against natives (Germans) to study the impact of the 2015 refugee crisis on the scale and type of crime committed in Germany, using first-difference and 2SLS regressions. The authors find:

  • Overall crime (excluding immigration-related offences), total victimization rate, and victimization rate of Germans all declined between 2014 and 2015. The dramatic surge in the population share of refugees between 2014 and 2015 was not accompanied by a surge in crimes (excluding immigration-related offences), which declined from 2014 to 2015. Moreover, the total victimization rate (total victims per 100,000 population) and the victimization rate of Germans (per 100,000 German population) also declined from 2014 to 2015. However, there was a significant increase in crimes (excluding immigration-related offences) with refugee suspects in 2015. The authors note that crimes with refugee suspects do not necessarily imply harm done to Germans (if directed at other immigrants, including refugees).
  • Evidence for a hump-shaped relation between the scale of refugee inflows and both the overall crime rate and the overall victimization in a county. A one standard deviation increase in refugee inflows raises the county-level crime rate by 1.67 percent and the county-level victimization rate by 2.27 percent from 2014 levels. Decentralized accommodation of refugees, at given levels of refugee immigration to a county, tends to reduce the crime rate (while refugee sex ratios exert no effect). The authors emphasize that systematic associations between immigration and measures of total crime incidence may have multiple and confounding causes, including changes in crime incidence exclusively among natives or among refugees, or changes in anti-refugee crimes by natives if these are affected by refugee immigration too.
  • No evidence for a systematic link between the scale of refugee immigration (and neither the type of refugee accommodation or refugee sex ratios) and the risk of Germans to become victims of a crime in which refugees are suspects. This result holds true not only for total crimes with victim recording in the Police Crime Statistic (PCS) data, but also for various sub-categories of such crimes, including robbery (economic crimes), bodily injury (violent crimes), and rape and sexual coercion (sex crimes).

The results do not support the view that Germans were victimized in greater numbers by refugees as measured by their rate of victimization in crimes with refugee suspects. The authors show that the use of crude crime or victimization rates, as is standard in the literature, lead to significantly biased inference, misinformed public policy, and misled public opinion.