A recent study funded by the German government’s Federal Ministry for Family Affairs attributed a ten percent rise in violent crime within Lower Saxony, a German state, to migrants settled in the region. Criminologists postulated that, between 2014 and 2016, migrants were responsible for ninety-two percent of the increase in violent crime. Critics of the German government’s accommodating refugee policy have celebrated the study’s conclusion as hard proof that migrants are having a detrimental impact on German society.
Long dormant, right-wing nationalism has stirred in Germany for the first time since the 1930s. With its surprising electoral victories last year, far-right Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) became the third-largest party in a fragmented German parliament. The AfD had rallied conservative voters with its promise to end non-European immigration to Germany. Speaking to the German parliament this month, an AfD politician underscored his party’s legislative agenda: “[the] incentives to come here must end.” Their first proposal was a bill amending Germany’s Residence Act to prohibit refugees already in Germany from inviting close relatives to the country.
Currently, Section 27 of the Residence Act permits dependents of migrants to emigrate to Germany “so that they can live together as a family…to protect marriage and the family.” Family reunification, sometimes called chain migration, has been central to European immigration policies since the conclusion of the Second World War. In the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, European nations established that “[the] family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”
Christian Pfeiffer, the criminologist who was the principal author of the German government’s study on violent crime, noted that refugees fleeing warzones in the Middle East were less likely to commit violent crimes overall. Migrants from North Africa, however, were overrepresented in the crime statistics. The difference between these two populations was that Middle Eastern migrants comprised all levels of society, while the North African migrant population was almost exclusively male, between fourteen and thirty years old.
Unlike migrants from Syria and Iraq, migrants from North Africa cannot qualify for asylum in Germany. While some may receive temporary “subsidiary protection,” many arrive in Germany and cannot secure any legal immigration status. They often remain, working in shadow economies or not working at all, as German immigration officials struggle against logistical and procedural hurdles to deport them.
The link between idle young men with no social standing and the commission of violent acts is extremely strong. The author of the study on violent crime himself hypothesized that “the lack of women has a negative effect” on the development of healthy norms of masculinity. It is somewhat surprising, then, that the AfD has cited the study to justify a more restrictive policy on family reunification. In fact, the study offered family reunification as a possible solution to the problem of violent crime committed by migrants.
This should come as no surprise to those who attempt to understand the nuances of the migration crisis. There are now more than 65 million migrants displaced around the world, the most in human history. With displacement comes violence and extremism that a stable society would otherwise sublimate or redirect. Although the Migration Policy Institute ranks German immigration policies in general as slightly more comprehensive than the rest of Europe, the German government’s family reunion policies rank twenty-fourth out of thirty-eight European countries.
National policies leading to social exclusion increase the risk of poverty. In recognition of this, the European Union has funded an initiative to significantly mitigate risk factors of poverty by 2020. Germany, like many Western nations, now faces a choice: submit to extreme nativism based on ideals of ethnic purity or attempt to solve the ills of displacement by extending hospitality to the stranger from foreign lands.