Unless Scandinavian political leaders begin actively to engage with the facts described by crime statistics, the problems are only going to become more intractable -- to the point where they might not be solvable at all. (Image source: iStock)
In Sweden, discussing who is behind the current crime epidemic in the country has long been taboo. Such a statistic has only been published twice by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (BRÅ), in 1996 and in 2005. In 2005, when BRÅ published its last report on the subject, "Crime among people born in Sweden and abroad," it contained the following note:
"Critics have argued that new results can be inflated, taken out of context and misinterpreted and lead to reinforcing 'us and them' thinking. There is every reason to take such risks seriously. However, BRÅ's assessment is... that a knowledge-based picture of immigrant crime is better than one based on guesses and personal perceptions. The absence of current facts about the crime among the foreign-born and their children facilitates the creation and consolidation of myths. If crime is a problem in certain groups of the foreign-born, then the problems do not disappear unless you highlight them and speak openly about them. A correct picture of the extent and development of the problems should instead be the best basis for analyzing conditions and improving the ability of all residents to function well in Sweden, regardless of ethnic origin."
Back then, apparently, the authorities still appreciated facts.
Twelve years later, in January 2017, however, Minister of Justice Morgan Johansson flatly refused to publish statistics about the ethnic origins of criminals in Sweden. According to Johansson:
"[Studies] have been done both in Sweden in the past, and there are countless international studies that all show much the same thing: That minority groups are often overrepresented in crime statistics, but when you remove socio-economic factors, it [the overrepresentation] almost completely disappears. So the political conclusions that I need to make, I can already make with existing international and Swedish studies."
Johansson, who in addition to being Minister of Justice also serves as Minister for Migration and Asylum Policy, was not alone in his views. When Swedish Television asked the political parties in the Swedish parliament, the majority said that they did not think such a statistic was needed.
This summer, however, in the continued absence of any forthcoming public statistics on such an extremely important public issue, a private foundation, Det Goda Samhället ("The Good Society") took it upon itself to produce these statistics in a new report, Invandring och brottslighet – ett trettioårsperspektiv ("Immigration and crime – a thirty-year perspective"). All the raw data in it were ordered from and supplied by BRÅ. The raw data from BRÅ can be accessed here.
According to the new report by Det Goda Samhället:
"For the first time now, more crimes -- in absolute terms -- are committed by persons of foreign background than by persons of Swedish origin... The most crime-prone population subgroup are people born [in Sweden] to two foreign-born parents."
The report concludes:
"In the more than thirty years that the surveys cover, one tendency is clearer than all others, namely that the proportion of the total amount of crimes committed by persons with a foreign background is steadily increasing... During the first of the investigated periods, 1985-1989, persons with a foreign background accounted for 31 percent of all crimes. During the period 2013-2017, the figure had risen to 58 percent. Thus, people of Swedish origin now account for less than half, 42 per cent, of the total crime in Sweden, despite constituting 67 per cent of the population surveyed."
In 1996, in its first report on the issue, BRÅ disclosed (p. 40) that, "The general picture from foreign studies of immigrants' children's crime is that they have a higher crime rate than first-generation immigrants. That is not the case in Sweden". According to the new report, it is the case now, and that is perhaps the greatest indictment against Swedish integration policies of the past 30 years: the policies clearly do not work.
Another notable conclusion of the report is the increase in crimes committed by foreign-born non-registered persons in Sweden -- these include illegal immigrants, EU citizens and tourists. The crimes this group has committed have increased from 3% in the period 1985-89 to 13% in 2013-17.
In Norway, recently, a report about the overrepresentation of immigrants and their descendants in crime statistics was ordered from Statistics Norway, by Fremskrittspartiet (FrP), which forms part of the Norwegian government. "We had known that immigrants are overrepresented in these statistics, but not [by] so much" said FrP immigration policy spokesman Jon Helgheim.
"For example, if we use the unadjusted figures... Afghans and Somalis are charged five times more for violence and abuse than Norwegians. Adjusted for age and gender, the overrepresentation is almost triple... Most immigrants are not criminals, but when the immigrant population is overrepresented in almost every crime category, then there is a problem that we must dare to talk about".
According to Dagbladet, FrP has, for years, been calling for detailed statistics on crimes perpetrated by immigrants and children of immigrants. In 2015, the party commissioned data from Statistics Norway, but the agency refused to compile crime statistics based on immigrants' country of origin.
Two years later, Statistics Norway published research showing that immigrants were strongly overrepresented in the crime statistics, but the report was not detailed enough, according to FrP, which ordered a new report, now available. According to Dagbladet, the new statistics "show that immigrants from non-Western countries are overrepresented in 65 out of 80 crime categories. In 2017, 7.1 per cent of Norway's population were immigrants from a non-western country."
According to Dagbladet, the new statistics also show that, "The largest overrepresentation [is] in violence and abuse in close relationships."
"Non-Western immigrants and their descendants are charged with family violence eight times as often as the rest of the population. In total, 443 persons were charged per year on average during the period 2015-2017, [and] 35 per cent (155) of those charged were from a non-western country or had a non-Western background. Only half of those charged with abuse in close relationships were what SSB [the statistical bureau] calls the rest of the population... Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania except Australia and Europe outside the EU and the EEA are considered non-Western countries."
According to Dagbladet, men from the Palestinian Authority and Somalia are charged with violence and abuse three times more often than Norwegian men.
FrP has been accused by its political opponents of ordering these statistics specifically for municipal elections that took place in Norway on September 9, 2019. Dagbladet asked Helgheim whether using these statistics was "cynical." Helgheim responded:
"No, it's not cynical at all. This is very relevant for the citizens to know something about. It would be a failure of FrP not to do everything we can to inform voters of what are realities and facts. Our opponents constantly criticize us for pulling the immigration card... I can find no explanations other than that those who do not want this to be known also do not want to know about the consequences of immigration to Norway."
In Denmark, unlike Sweden and Norway, the publication of such statistics in itself is fairly uncontroversial. The Danish statistical bureau, Statistics Denmark, publishes them as a matter of fact every year and they are publicly available to everyone.
"The figures show that crime in 2017 was 60% higher among male immigrants and 234% higher in male non-Western descendants than the entire male population. If one takes into account, for example, that many of the descendants are young, and Statistics Denmark does so in the report, the figures are 44% for immigrants and 145% for descendants, respectively. If further corrected, for both age and income, of immigrants and descendants from non-western countries, the figures are 21% and 108%".
As for the nationality of the criminal migrants, Berlingske Tidende reported:
"At the top of the list are male Lebanese who, as far as [their] descendants are concerned, are almost four times as criminal as average men, when [the figures are] adjusted for age. [That is] sharply followed by male descendants from Somalia, Morocco and Syria. The violence index is 351 for descendants from non-western countries. They are 3.5 times more violent than the population as a whole. Descendants from Lebanon have an index of violent crimes of 668 when corrected for age."
Unless Scandinavian political leaders begin actively to engage with the facts that these statistics describe, the problems are only going to become more intractable -- to the point where they might not be solvable at all.
John Richardson is a researcher based in the United States.