Interior minister gets tough on organized crime

Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) is making headlines because she is suggesting to deport members of criminal gangs who come from migrant communities, even if no specific offenses can be proved against them.

The proposition which has already drawn criticism from the SPD’s coalition partner, the Greens, is part of a draft discussion paper published in early August. The paper states: “To date, members of organized criminal groups can only be considered for deportation if they had a criminal conviction.” But the authors go on to propose for that situation to change — that they should be treated similarly to members of terrorist organizations.

Organized crime groups who define themselves by their family links and shared ethnic identity are referred to by German police and in German media as “clans”. But critics say the term “clan crime” puts relatives under general suspicion and is unfair to those who are not criminals.

“Family affiliation is not a criminal activity,” German Interior Ministry spokesperson Maximilian Kall explained on Monday (7.8.2023) and every individual family member who would be deported according to the new rules would need to have a connection to the criminal activities. But if the new proposal became reality, deporting a person would be possible in the future “if the facts justify the conclusion that someone was or is part of a criminal organization,” Kall said.

A person’s affiliation with a criminal association must also first be investigated, emphasized Dirk Peglow, the chair of the trade union representing Germany’s criminal police, the BDK. He told DW that was why he was calling for more investigators, instead of simplified deportations.

Arab crime gangs in Germany

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Germany’s organized crime gangs

Since 2018, Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) has been gathering focused data on criminal gangs with family connections in its Organized Crime Situation Reports. The BKA defines a “clan” as “an informal social organization which is determined by a common understanding of the ancestry of its members.” Defining characteristics include strict hierarchical structures, an intense sense of belonging and a mutual understanding of values and norms. If belonging to such a group “represents a connecting component that promotes the committing of a crime or hinders the investigation of a crime,” the BKA terms it “clan crime.” The BKA has also listed the origins of the families it has kept track of. Topping the statistics are the Mhallami Kurds, who come from southeastern Turkey and Lebanon. They are followed by groups with Turkish and Arab origins, as well as some which come from Western Balkans countries or the Maghreb states.

These criminal families do not operate throughout Germany but rather focus on certain regional areas. More than two-thirds of all investigations into such groups occurred in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Lower Saxony, Bremen and Berlin.

In June, there were massive brawls in the Ruhr area of western Germany, between Syrian and Lebanese extended families. “Criminal behavior by Turkish-Arab members of criminal groups is subject to public perception and therefore is not only relevant to police but also relevant politically,” it was written in the latest situation report on the issue from Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, where the Ruhr area is located.

This political relevance has prompted Germany’s center-left coalition government — made up of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) — to declare this type of crime a priority.

Faeser’s proposal is also being viewed in connection with her candidacy for the role of premier in state elections in Hessen, which are scheduled for October.

 Nancy Faeser (SPD)
Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser is also the SPD’s top candidate for regional elections in Hesse in OctoberImage: Michael Bahlo/dpa/picture alliance

Brute force?

In the NRW situation report on “clan criminality” from 2022 it states that almost a third of the crimes (28%) were “crimes of brutality” — in other words: assault.

The truly dangerous organized criminality takes place in secret, in silence, criminologist and former police officer Thomas Müller told DW. Müller spent seven years investigating organized crime in Bremen. The fight against “clan criminality” is ripe for political exploitation, Müller observed. He laments the “collateral damage” of the approach because it causes great harm to innocent people who come from a similar community or have a similar name.

Do not criminalize extended families

In a January 2023 study for the Germany-based immigration research group Mediendienst Integration, researcher Mahmoud Jaraba objected to the widely held perception of criminal extended families. After seven years of investigations in the field, Jaraba is certain: Criminality is not taking place within wider extended families, but rather within “sub-sub-clans.” At this level, there are strong notions of solidarity and shared identity and sometimes also central leaders. Only a few members of an extended family might be criminals. However, they not only receive a disproportionately high level of attention from the media and politicians; they often actively seek it.

Most of the members of the extended families, however, criticize the criminal activities, Jaraba said. Rather, they suffer from social discrimination because they are held jointly responsible for the misconduct of their notorious namesakes.

This article was originally written in German.

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