Increase in asylum seekers fails to spark ‘crime wave’

Despite asylum applications having tripled in a year, crime in general has decreased and the number of charges brought against asylum seekers has actually fallen, according to leaked figures from the interior ministry.

Increase in asylum seekers fails to spark 'crime wave'
Photo: Flickr

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.


EXPLAINED: What to do if you experience online abuse in Austria

Following the suicide of an Austrian doctor who received threats from Covid-19 anti-vaccination activists, the government has now launched a new campaign to help victims of online abuse.

EXPLAINED: What to do if you experience online abuse in Austria

The Austrian medical community was left in shock in July when Lisa-Maria Kellermayr, a local doctor in Seewalchen am Attersee in Upper Austria, took her own life following months of online abuse.

Kellermayr, 36, had been targeted by anti-vaccination activists and Covid-19 conspiracy theorists for her out-spoken support of vaccines, and the abuse even included death threats. 

Her death prompted candlelight vigils and demonstrations in Vienna and the tragic story was picked up by news outlets around the world.

READ MORE: How Austria’s attempt to make vaccines mandatory changed the country

This led to calls for tighter laws against online bullying and the ability for perpetrators to be prosecuted in other EU countries – particularly as at least two of the people who are believed to have targeted Kellermayr are based in Germany, according to the Guardian.

The Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) has even called for the creation of a special public prosecutor’s office to deal with “hate-on-the-net”, but this has been rejected by prosecutors and other political parties, as reported by ORF.

Instead, the Federal Justice Department has launched a new information campaign, website and hotline to help people dealing with online abuse.

FOR MEMBERS: What happens if you get arrested in Austria?

What is in the new campaign?

Austria’s Justice Minister Alma Zadic (Greens) said they have launched the campaign to raise awareness about the issue and to inform victims about the support available.

Zadic said: “It is important to me that those affected know that they are not alone in this situation and that the judiciary supports them with free psychological and legal process support.”

“You don’t have to cope alone with the extraordinary burdens that criminal proceedings can entail, for example through confrontation with the perpetrators.”

READ ALSO: Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Part of the support package is the new website Hilfe bei Gewalt (Help with Violence), which details how to access help from the authorities, as well as secure free legal advice and representation from a lawyer.

The website states the service is for victims of bullying and/or hate online, defamation, stalking, terrorism, incitement, sexual violence and robbery.

The service is designed to be anonymous with options to contact the Justice Department by phone or via a chat box. The website also lists contact details for regional support services in all provinces across Austria. 

The free (kostenlos) hotline for Hilfe bei Gewalt is 0800 112 112.

Useful links

Hilfe bei Gewalt

Austrian Federal Justice Department