German states look to reintegration to reduce migrant crime

The number of migrants in German prisons has steadily risen since 2015, according to data obtained by DW from five state justice ministries. German states are putting more resources into reintegrating them into society.

Since 2015, the number of Syrian, Afghan, Eritrean, Iraqi and Serbian migrants in German prisons has risen steadily, according to information obtained from five state justice ministries, which highlighted the trend in the largest groups of migrants arriving to the country in recent years.

"Most of the detainees in correctional facilities were property crime, offenses involving bodily harm and violations of the Narcotic Drugs Act," Jörg Herold, spokesman for the Saxony state Justice Ministry told DW.

In the state of Saarland, the majority of offenders, both adults and minors, were jailed for violent crimes, theft and drug-related offenses, said Sirin Ozfirat, spokesperson for the Saarland Justice Ministry.

Read more: German city of Cottbus grapples with violence between locals and refugees

Human Rights | 14.03.2018

Although the ministries of justice in Hamburg and Lower Saxony do not specify which crimes have been committed by migrants, their respective spokespersons confirmed that the number of Syrian, Afghan, Iraqi, Eritrean and Serbian prisoners had risen.

"Particularly since 2016, we have seen an increase in the number of prisoners in custody," stated Marion Klabunde, a press officer for Hamburg's justice authority. "This increase is reflected throughout the entire prison system."

Infografik Auslaendische Haeftlinge Deutschland ENG

More people, more crime

The main factor contributing to the increase of non-German prisoners in the country's penitentiary system is the influx of migrants from 2014 to 2016, said Dirk Baier, who heads the Institute of Delinquency and Crime Prevention at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences.

"More people always mean more people who behave criminally," Baier told DW. "It will be interesting to see how the penal institutions have to react to these 'new' groups of prisoners, develop their own concepts or something similar."

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In 2015, Germany witnessed nearly 900,000 people enter the country and apply for asylum in what European leaders described as a migration "crisis." Many of the migrants were fleeing war and extreme poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Figures from Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees shows that migrants originating from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea were the largest groups to arrive in the country in 2016.

In the state of Bavaria, the total number of foreign prisoners jumped from 3,902 in January 2015 to 5,214 in January 2018. In the state of Hamburg, the data show the number of migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Serbia in correctional facilities increased from 301 in 2015 to 500 in 2017.

Serbian inmates

But Baier noted that the three largest groups of asylum seekers –  from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan –  only doubled since the height of the migration crisis. However, the number of Serbian prisoners rose despite no noticeable increase in migration to Germany.

"Somewhat surprising is the high number of Serbian detainees," said Baier. "The increases in the numbers cannot be attributed to the increase in the number of refugees since 2015, because Serb refugees did not make up most of the refugee population."

Reintegration begins in prison

Since 2015, federal and state authorities have boosted resources to better help migrants adapt to life in Germany, even for those who have been convicted of a crime.

Bavaria's regional parliament has allocated €170,000 ($210,000) for German language assistance and integration programs in its 2017-2018 budget, Rebekka Übler, deputy spokesperson of the Bavarian Justice Ministry, told DW.

Read more: Only better integration will reduce migrant crime rate: study

"A total of 260 new jobs have been created at the Justice Ministry, including 40 posts for the general prison service and 10 posts for psychologists in the prison system, particularly to tackle the refugee crisis," Übler said, referring to a supplementary budget for 2016.

Challenges remain

Baier believes there are further challenges that need to be addressed. "Another [challenge] is that the prisoners may be expelled after the sentence has ended, which may reduce their willingness to participate in rehabilitation measures," Baier said.

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According to the five justice ministries, all prisoners receive equal treatment and care. They are also provided with legal aid, medical and psychological support, school counseling and addiction recovery treatment, Klabunde told DW.

But inmates have to choose whether to pursue those opportunities. That can be a tough choice if faced with the possibility of deportation after their sentence. Either way, these German states are providing the services to better prepare them for reentry into society.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Fleeing war and poverty

In late 2014, with the war in Syria approaching its fourth year and Islamic State making gains in the north of the country, the exodus of Syrians intensified. At the same time, others were fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, Niger and Kosovo.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Seeking refuge over the border

Vast numbers of Syrian refugees had been gathering in border-town camps in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan since 2011. By 2015, with the camps full to bursting and residents often unable to find work or educate their children, more and more people decided to seek asylum further afield.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

A long journey on foot

In 2015 an estimated 1.5 million people made their way on foot from Greece towards western Europe via the "Balkan route". The Schengen Agreement, which allows passport-free travel within much of the EU, was called into question as refugees headed towards the wealthier European nations.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Desperate sea crossings

Tens of thousands of refugees were also attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats. In April 2015, 800 people of various nationalities drowned when a boat traveling from Libya capsized off the Italian coast. This was to be just one of many similar tragedies - by the end of the year, nearly 4,000 refugees were reported to have died attempting the crossing.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Pressure on the borders

Countries along the EU's external border struggled to cope with the sheer number of arrivals. Fences were erected in Hungary, Slovenia, Macedonia and Austria. Asylum laws were tightened and several Schengen area countries introduced temporary border controls.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Closing the open door

Critics of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open-door" refugee policy claimed it had made the situation worse by encouraging more people to embark on the dangerous journey to Europe. By September 2016, Germany had also introduced temporary checks on its border with Austria.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

Striking a deal with Turkey

In early 2016, the EU and Turkey signed an agreement under which refugees arriving in Greece could be sent back to Turkey. The deal has been criticized by human rights groups and came under new strain following a vote by the European Parliament in November to freeze talks on Turkey's potential accession to the EU.

How did Europe's refugee crisis start?

No end in sight

With anti-immigration sentiment in Europe growing, governments are still struggling to reach a consensus on how to handle the continuing refugee crisis. Attempts to introduce quotas for the distribution of refugees among EU member states have largely failed. Conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere show no signs coming to an end, and the death toll from refugee sea crossings is on the rise.