Sylvi Listhaug, Norway’s government minister in charge of immigration and integration, set off more debate this week after releasing the results of a study she’d ordered. It confirms that Norwegians with immigrant background are over-represented in crime statistics, a fact Listhaug seized upon while downplaying how the study also shows the degree of over-representation declining considerably.
The study, ordered by Listhaug from state statistics bureau SSB, shows a higher portion of registered criminals among people with immigrant background in Norway than among the population in general. SSB’s new figures show that 6.7 percent of immigrants had committed crimes as had 11.3 percent of those born in Norway with immigrant parents. That compares to how criminals make up 4.5 percent of the population in general.
When adjusted for age and gender, however, such over-representation is reduced significantly. Then the portion of criminals among immigrants declined to 5.8 percent and to just 6.8 percent among the offspring of immigrants, while crime in general among immigrants has been on a steady decline for the past 16 years.
‘Lack of respect for our laws…’
Listhaug told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that it was positive the numbers have moved in the right direction, since she thinks all immigrants and next-generation immigrants “have all opportunity to succeed in Norwegian society.” Many claim that’s debatable, and then Listhaug stated that she thinks SSB’s numbers still show “a lack of respect (among immigrants and their offspring) for our laws and regulations. I think that’s very sad.”
NRK reported that studies like the one Listhaug ordered are controversial themselves because of the various ways their results can be interpreted. Many new arrivals in Norway also aren’t aware of or don’t understand all Norwegian laws and regulations either, making it more likely that they may violate them.
SSB researcher Synøve Andersen told NRK, meanwhile, that most of the crimes involving immigrants were described as vinningskriminalitet (non-violent crimes committed for personal profit or against property) and that there had been a “marked decline” in them among immigrants since 2000. Andersen said that the highest percentages of immigrants and next-generation immigrants committing crimes came from Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Stirred up criticism
Listhaug’s conclusions set off immediate criticism, even from within the Conservative Party that shares government power with Listhaug’s Progress Party, which has long maintained restrictive policies on asylum and immigration. Kristin Ørmen Johnsen, the Conservatives’ spokesperson on immigration policy, responded to Listhaug’s remarks by telling newspaper newspaper Dagsavisen Tuesday it was “a bit too easy to say they (immigrants) don’t have respect for Norwegian laws. Everyone who commits crimes lacks respect for Norwegian laws and regulations, and that applies to ethnic white Norwegians as well.”
Johnsen was concerned that the crime statistics remained relatively high among those born in Norway to immigrant parents: “We’re talking, after all, about Norwegian youth who are Norwegian citizens.” She wants more information as to why they’re over-represented, though, adding that while she’s glad Listhaug’s ministry ordered the study, she doesn’t think it provides the whole picture.
“We need more information before we can respond with concrete measures,” Johnsen told Dagsavisen.
Warning against more prejudice
Newspaper Aftenposten was also editorializing on Tuesday against drawing any hasty conclusions from SSB’s study or allowing it to add to prejudice against immigrants in Norway. Aftenposten noted how Listhaug’s request for SSB’s study initially met resistance from SSB itself because the agency (which recently has been subjected to great drama and turbulence) lacked enough professional resources to carry it out.
The study was conducted nonetheless, with Aftenposten noting that other SSB studies have concluded that children of immigrants in Norway also complete higher degress of education than the rest of Norway’s population.
“Statistics can be used to cement prejudices against immigrants, but should not,” Aftenposten wrote. “As always, statistics must be used with common sense, intelligence and reason, and it’s important to remember that the bigger picture is positive: Crime in general is going down.”