Refugees Welcome? Understanding the Regional Heterogeneity of Anti Foreigner Hate Crimes in Germany

Horst Entorf and Martin Lange

IZA Discussion Paper Series, No. 12229 (2019)


This paper examines the effect of the influx of asylum seekers to Germany in 2014 and 2015 on anti-foreigner hate crime. By exploiting the quasi-experimental assignment of asylum seekers to German regions, the authors estimate the causal effect of changes in the share of the foreign-born population on anti-foreigner hate crime. The authors examine why some regions are more prone to hate crime against asylum seekers than others, and consider several channels of influence including economic, demographic, and social conditions. The analysis is based on recent official administrative hate crime records at the county level. Key findings:

  • The size of the refugee inflow does not automatically translate into a higher number of attacks against asylum seekers. Recent inflows of asylum seekers only impact the rise in hate crimes when they were assigned to areas with a previously very low share of foreign-born inhabitants, to regions under economic strain, or to those with a legacy of anti-foreigner hate crimes.
  • There is a much larger upsurge in hate crimes in East than in West Germany. When East-West German differences are controlled for, the predominance of native-born residents at the local level is the single most important factor explaining the sudden increase in hate crime. Economic conditions or a legacy of hate crime cannot explain the grave differences between the former two parts of Germany.

The authors conclude that the defended neighborhood hypothesis of Green et al. (1998) is the most robust explanation of the rise in hate crime in both East and West Germany, i.e. hate crime victimization tends to be higher when a rapid increase in ethnically different migrants occurs in a previously homogenous area with a predominant racial group of incumbents. When analyzing violent hate crimes only, the hypothesis on defended neighborhoods retains its explanatory power.