The number of criminal charges against asylum seekers increased from around 10,000 in 2014 to 14,000 in 2015. However, during the same period, asylum applications tripled to around 90,000 - so the “crime wave” that some people feared as a result of mass immigration has in fact not occurred.
"If you compare the figures that's actually a reduction in crime - and the figures also represent police charges and not court judgements. So this doesn’t reflect what’s being reported in the media,” said Norbert Leonhardmair from the Vienna Centre for Societal Security (VICESSE).
A senior official from the interior ministry told the Kurier newspaper that the crime rate is currently “the lowest it's been in decades” and that it is “absurd that people are forming vigilante groups and buying weapons to protect themselves”.
Officially, crime statistics for 2015 have not yet been released but last week the report was emailed to all decision-makers in the interior ministry. According to information obtained by the Kurier, last year there were just 500,000 criminal charges. In 2014, there were around 528,000.
"All types of crime have declined, we’re only seeing an increase in cyber crime," an interior ministry insider told the Kurier.
In terms of overall crime, offences committed by asylum seekers amounted to 2.8 percent of the total crimes reported last year. "Studies have shown that the term asylum seeker has a very broad definition when used by statisticians,” according to Veronika Hofinger from the Institute for the Sociology of Law and Criminology (IRKS).
She said often people whose asylum applications had been decided years ago were lumped in with recent arrivals. "But despite the high number of asylum applications, criminal charges against asylum seekers have only increased slightly."
Leonhardmair told the Kurier that fears about asylum seekers have nothing to do with facts, and more to do with “employment, how people feel in their home environments, and even relationship problems. The fact is that the economic crisis is fuelling the fear of crime and people are projecting this onto asylum seekers."
He added that this fear has little to do with whether one has been a victim of crime or not. "When it comes to crime and foreigners, the fear is always greatest in places with the lowest amount of foreigners and the least amount of crime.”
A study by the University of Vienna found that Burgenland has one of the lowest crime rates in Austria, but that people there are most afraid of being a victim of crime.
Leonhardmair believes that newspapers and social media are guilty of whipping up fears about migrants committing crimes. “At the moment there’s a lot of rumours about crimes being committed by asylum seekers - circulating on social media networks such as Facebook. And since the sexual assaults in Cologne police have to justify themselves each time they fail to report a case of sexual assault… this has an effect on the victims of such crimes and just generates more fear.”
He added that many of the allegations against asylum seekers making the rounds on social media have been proven to be incorrect.