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What do Greek official statistics on migrants and crime really show us?

Georgios A. Antonopoulos


Greece has become a very popular destination for migrants in the 1990s something that transformed it from a country of emigration to a country of immigration. Great socio-economic and political changes in eastern Europe after the collapse of the former Soviet bloc, brought a very large (for Greece) wave of migrants of an estimated 500,000 people, most of them Albanians, in a total population of about 10 million (Karydis, 1996). The Greek society, which had not experienced such a huge wave of migrants before, was caught by surprise, and was ‘obliged’ to adapt to the new situation as smoothly and quickly as possible. Since then there has been a great debate going on regarding the criminality of migrants, a debate, which has been mainly based on the police, judicial and prison statistics.

Official statistics and their inadequacies

The official statistics are distinguished in these showing that migrants are over-represented in criminality, and those showing that are under-represented, in relation to their numbers in the overall population of Greece. However, it is well established within the criminological enterprise that statistics when researching complex social phenomena cannot possibly be a solid basis for arguments, due to several limitations they possess. Apart from the hidden figure of crime, which is probably the biggest obstacle towards a valid quantification of criminality, the official statistics regarding the criminality of migrants in Greece present three very serious limitations. Firstly, they ignore the exact number of migrants in the country. An unknown number of migrants in Greece are undocumented, and this causes enormous problems to the ministries (and other governmental or non-governmental bodies) in their attempt to estimate as accurately as possible their numbers. Specifically, as noted by Linardos-Rylmon (1993), it is very characteristic that in the beginning of the 1990s, the ministry of Public Order estimated that there were 105,000 immigrants in Greece, whereas the ministry of Labour only 30,000 (see also Lianos, 1997). As a consequence, the comparison and contrast of the percentage the migrants represent in the total population in Greece to this of the sentenced and/or imprisoned migrants is - to extent- invalid.

Secondly, official statistics ignore the fact that even the slightest change in the police interest in migrant criminality, or in the willingness of the public to report crimes committed by migrants can cause a ‘wave’ of migrant criminality. As Marshall (1997) suggests, statistics on migrant criminality do not only reflect the migrants’ patterns of offending but also (public), political, and police practices. Given that there has been a "moral panic" cultivated in Greece regarding migrants, there is a well-founded suspicion for the above.

Thirdly, official statistics ignore that a large percentage of the victimisation of the members of migrant (and minority) groups has an intra-group character. Research has shown that in industrialised, developed societies in general, ethnic minorities and migrants are being victimised to a larger extent than the general population, and that a large part of this victimisation is a result of crimes committed by offenders of the same (minority or migrant) group (Karydis, 1996). For example in Britain, black-on-black crime accounts for a substantial proportion of the victimisation of black people (Smith, 1997). Similarly, research has shown that in the city of Basle in Switzerland there is a very high ratio of victimisation of Turkish migrants by Turkish offenders (Killias, 1997). The majority of these victims do not report their victimisation to the police either because of their dissatisfaction that arises from the police unfairness or unhelpfulness, as Zedner (1997) suggests, or out of the fear of being deported. As a consequence, there is a large number of intra-group criminal activities that remains hidden. This is certainly the case in Greece. Many migrant victims in the country exactly because of their ‘illegal’ status (‘illegal’ entrance, residence, and employment), are reluctant to report crimes committed by members of the same group against them and in consequence ask for help and protection from the police and the criminal justice system in general, out of fear of being deported (1). However, no victimisation surveys have ever been conducted in Greece, something that could provide us with some additional information on this particular issue.

What do Greek official statistics on migrants and crime really show us?

Having the inadequacies of the Greek official statistics in relation to the criminality of migrants under consideration it can be safely argued that no valid conclusions about this issue can be drawn from them. The only thing we can do is just verify that the migrants are not integrated into the Greek society. Official statistics do not show us the representation of migrant groups in the total criminality in Greece, but, as Bovenkerk (1993) suggests, the criminal profile of the (offending) migrants, which reflects their social and economic position. If we take a look at the last official statistics published by the National Bureau of Statistics in Greece (ESYE, 2000) we see that migrants in the country are over-represented or under-represented in specific criminal activities; for example ‘crimes against life’, ‘bodily harms’, ‘drug related crimes’, ‘crimes against the morals’, and infringements of the ‘Law on Aliens’. The absence of the migrants from crime categories such as ‘homicide by car’, ‘infringements of the measures against diseases’, ‘infringements of the rules of building construction’, ‘service related crimes’, and white-collar criminal activities in general shows that migrants are not integrated in the Greek society as they do not have the opportunities as well as the means to carry out these activities. They cannot, for example, commit homicide by car simply because - in their vast majority - they do not have a car. Nor they can commit service related crimes, as they cannot be civil servants.


Official statistics should be treated very cautiously. They cannot constitute a solid basis for an argument surrounding criminality, and even more an argument surrounding the relationship between migrants and crime. They are more valid as an indicator of migrants’ integration into a country rather than an indication of their criminality. Official statistics should be used only as indicative of the situation with the requirement that they are placed within a research context as well as within a socio-political context.


Of course the same applies when the offender is Greek.


Bovenkerk, F. (1993) ‘Crime and the Multi-Ethnic Society: A View from Europe’, Crime, Law, and Social Change, 19(3), 271-280

ESYE (2000) Statistikes tis Dykaiosynis: Politiki, Eglimatologiki, Sofronistiki 1996. [Statistics of Justice: Political, Criminological, Correctional 1996] Athens: ESYE

Gatti, U., Malfatti, D. and Verde, A. (1997) ‘Minorities, Crime, and Criminal Justice in Italy’. In Marshall Haen, I. (ed.) Minorities, Migrants and Crime: Diversity and Similarity Across Europe and the United States. (pp.110-129) Thousand Oaks, Ca.: Sage

Karydis, V. (1996) I Eglimatikotita ton Metanaston stin Ellada: Zitimata Theorias kai Anteglimatikis Politikis. [The Criminality of Migrants in Greece: Issues of Theory and Criminal Policy] Athens: Papazisi Publications

Killias, M. (1997) ‘Immigrants, Crime, and Criminal Justice in Switzerland’. In Tonry, M. (ed.) Ethnicity, Crime and Immigration: Comparative and Cross-National Perspectives. Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, Vol.21. (pp.375-405) Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press

Lianos, T.P. (1997) ‘Paranomi Metanastefsi stin Ellada kai Metanasteftiki Politiki’ [Illegal Immigration to Greece and Immigration Policy]. In Kintis, A.A. (ed.) To Paron kai to Mellon tis Ellinikis Oikonomias. [The Present and Future of the Greek Economy] (pp.250-259) Athens: Gutenberg

Linardos-Rylmon, P. (1993) Allodapoi Ergazomenoi Kai Agora Ergasias stin Ellada. [Foreign Workers and Labour Market in Greece] Athens: INE/GSEE

Marshall, I.H. (1997) ‘Minorities, Crime, and Criminal Justice in the United States’. In Mashall, I.H. (ed.) Minorities, Migrants, and Crime: Diversity and Similarity Across Europe and the United States. (pp.1-35) Thousand Oaks, Ca.: Sage

Smith, D.J. (1997) ‘Ethnic Origins, Crime and Criminal Justice’. In Maguire, M., Morgan, R. and Reiner, R. (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology. 2nd edition (pp.703-799) New York: Oxford University Press

Zedner, L. (1994) ‘Victims’. In Maguire, M., Morgan, R. & Reiner, R. eds. The Oxford Handbook of Criminology. (pp.1207-1246) New York: Oxford University Press

Georgios A. Antonopoulos
4 St. Aidan’s Street
Middlesbrough TS1 4DD
Tel.: 0771-4648544
E-mail: georgios.antonopoulos@durham.ac.uk

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