Manipulating statistical data and the myth of “immigrant crime”

Following last year’s outbreak of anti-immigrant sentiments, many Russian media started reporting about an unprecedented “rise in crime acts” committed by immigrants, which supposedly was a “threat to national security”.  Spreading negative news reports and outright distortion of facts inevitably lead to widespread impression among the Russian population that immigrants are to blame for many of the troubles in Russian society.

Over the past several months xenophobic rhetoric reached new, unprecedented levels, becoming both acceptable and “appropriate“ for both politicians and common people. Thus, on January 22, 2014 Russian information agency “Novosti” published an article, which claimed that last year immigrants committed by 20% more crimes than a year before. We tried to investigate where the figures came from and what was meant under the broad notion of “crimes”. If we refer to the statistics of the Federal migration service (FMS) for Saint Petersburg and Leningrad region for 2013 (published on FMS official website: www.ufms.spb.ru), we can see that the greater part of so called “crimes” committed by immigrants was in fact referring to administrative violations and even among those most were violations of the period of stay and registration in the Russian Federation. Thus, if we translate this into a simpler language, these “crimes” were neither serious offences against public order nor were they aimed against individuals or the rights and freedoms of the Russian citizens.    

Needless to say that there is a big difference between a “crime” and a “violation”. And manipulations with these two notions, especially if no additional explanations are provided, could change the impression of a common person as to how serious a threat immigrants are. In her official statement the head of the Saint Petersburg directorate of FMS Yelena Dunayeva stressed that out of 3540 legal offences committed by foreign citizens in 2013 just a small portion were criminal offences. She said that based on FMS statistics, criminal cases were opened mainly on charges referred to in Article 327 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Counterfeit, production and dissemination of false documents”) and Article 322 (“Illegal border crossing”). Sadly but true, but this is indeed the most widespread violation committed by immigrants since many of them have lots of troubles in going through the red tape and indecent conditions while trying to get their documents from Russian officials, which makes them turn to illegal intermediaries in order to obtain the papers they need. But both of these offences are not the kind of terrible crimes imagined by the audience of mass media when they hear about “the rise of crime”. 

Significantly different statistical data is presented on the website of the Procurator General’s office of the Russian Federation. According to these figures, in January-November 2013 a total of 2395 legal violations were committed in Saint Petersburg by foreign nationals (and it is obvious that in December the number of violations couldn’t have been 1,5 times higher than the monthly average for the year). Using other data published on this website, we have calculated that foreign nationals committed by 10,8% less legal offences than during the first 11 months of 2012. Thus, by simply juggling the figures, facts and notions, by mixing the data on legal offences committed by foreigners with those committed by migrants coming from various parts of Russia, the state officials and then the journalists turn immigrants from ex-USSR countries into dangerous criminals, although these immigrants do not possess some unitary criminal threat to Russia and more often themselves become victims of crimes and arbitrary actions of officials, which are hardly ever properly investigated and prosecuted. 

Based on our own experience of human rights work and the experience of our colleagues, we clearly see that both the appeals of immigrants against arbitrary actions by Russian law enforcement officers, as well as appeals concerning crimes committed against immigrants, are left without proper consideration in most of the cases. But somehow nobody pays attention to that, except for the human rights defenders. And since both the officials and the journalists show that they are not interested in reporting the truth, the stories about horrible immigrant crime are believed by many of the Russian citizens who do not try to check the information they receive from the media.

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