"Misleading" statistics blame crime on foreigners

Foreigners were blamed for 55.3 per cent of crimes last year Keystone Archive

Statistics showing that foreigners are responsible for more than half of crimes committed in Switzerland have been criticised as misleading.

This content was published on June 2, 2004 - 08:56

The Federal Police Office has admitted that the figures do not give the full picture because they refer to suspects, not convictions.

Foreigners were accused of 55.3 per cent of crimes last year – an all time high, says the Police Office, and a rise of 4.5 per cent on the previous year.

“This figure is therefore more than in 1998, a year where it reached a high of 54.85 per cent,” said the office in a statement.

But the office admits that the statistics do not give the full picture about foreigners and crime in Switzerland.

“The statistics are not designed to ask where people [who commit crimes] come from and why they do things,” spokesman, Guido Balmer, told swissinfo. “We just know if [the offenders] are Swiss or foreign.”

He added that the system is currently being revised by the Federal Statistics Office so that it gives a clearer view of the crime situation in Switzerland – for both locals and foreigners.

“Erroneous”

For its part, the Federal Commission for Foreigners warned that the statistics could lead to “erroneous interpretations” because they gave the impression that suspects had actually committed the crimes of which they were accused.

“Only statistics based upon the number of people convicted of a crime would be able to show how many real foreign criminals there are,” said the Commission in a statement.

Other crime experts have also pointed out that the statistics make no distinction between foreigners who have been living in Switzerland for many years and those who make quick trips over the border to places like Geneva with the intention of committing a crime, such as theft.

Nevertheless, Martin Killias, a criminologist at Lausanne University, told swissinfo that it was unusual for a country in western Europe to record such a high number of crimes committed by foreigners.

He said Switzerland’s large foreign population - 20 per cent of the total – was likely to be one reason.

Minorities

“There is a considerable percentage of [foreigners] living in Switzerland… which is relevant in the sense that all countries with significant minorities usually have considerably higher percentages of offending among minorities,” Killias told swissinfo.

“This is true for the US, Canada, Australia, and around the globe,” he added.

Killias said Switzerland’s wealth might also make it an attractive target.

“For instance, selling drugs is certainly more interesting in economic terms [here] than selling it down in Italy simply because the prices are much higher and people here would pay more,” he said.

Another important factor, said Killias, is the difference in social and economic conditions between minorities and the rest of the population.

Discrimination

Killias rejects suggestions that the statistics – based on the number of crimes reported in the country’s 26 cantons - could be explained in part by racist or discriminatory attitudes.

“Crime surveys, which have been going on for 20 years, show that the percentage of non-Swiss suspects, according to victims, matches what you find in police statistics,” he told swissinfo.

“We also tested whether victims, particularly Swiss nationals, would be prepared to report a foreign suspect more easily, but this was not the case,” he added.

Commenting on the statistics, the Police Office said it was not concerned by indications that the proportion of crimes committed by foreigners was on the increase.

“That’s not something to be worried about because we haven’t really seen the trend increasing - we have had this percentage [of over 50 per cent] since 1996,” spokesman Balmer told swissinfo.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold

Key facts

Last year, foreigners were accused of committing 55.3% of crimes in Switzerland.
That is a rise of 4.5% on the previous year.
The percentage of reported crimes by foreigners has been over 50% since 1996.
3,500 of the 5,000 inmates in Swiss jails are foreign.

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