Spike in 'Crime Tourism' Sparks EU Migration Debate in Denmark

Vehicles approach the German-Danish border in Froslev on July 5, 2011. Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

The number of criminal charges brought against 'tourists' in Denmark has increased by nearly 50% in just five years according to crime statistics obtained from Danish police by Danish newspaper Metroxpress. The charges brought against these tourists range from robbery and rape to immigration violations.

Figures provided by the Danish National Police show that 17,725 criminal charges were brought against so-called 'crime tourists' in 2013, according to the report, up 49% from 2008.

A crime tourist is defined by the Danish National Police as a non-resident foreigner who is not in Denmark illegally or as an asylum seeker - a definition which could include new EU migrants and people on tourist visas. Anna Karina Nickelsen, head of secretariat of the Danish Crime Prevention Council said: "The increase in tourist crime is only an increase in charges hence it does not necessarily reflect an increase in the absolute number of crimes."

Nickelsen says that property crime accounts for the majority of the offenses committed in Denmark, but that the percentage of criminals caught by police compared to the total number of crimes committed is low. The nationality of the offenders is not recorded on arrest.

However she did suggest that a more focused effort by the police concerning crime tourists as a group may be behind the increase in charges. "An increased focus on this particular group will naturally express itself as an increase in the number of charges," she said.

Henrik Stagetorn, criminal lawyer and the head of the National Association of Defense Lawyers, is clear on where he thinks the blame should lie, saying "the increase in crime is directly linked to immigration".

"Since 2008, people from Bulgaria and Romania have been coming to Denmark and committing pickpocketing and private home robbery," he says, although he was unable to give specific statistics on immigrant crime in the country.

The anti-immigration Danish People's Party (DPP) has touted the report as proof that stricter border controls are needed to stop the flow of criminally inclined tourists arriving in Denmark.

"I don't think it's normal tourists committing crimes," the DPP party spokesperson Peter Skaarup told Metroxpress. "It is people who come to Denmark under the guise of tourism, for example on a visa, for a short period with the intention of committing crimes."

Denmark's ruling Social Democrats disagree however, saying that the increase in arrests is due to the government's initiative to fight crime.

"We have increased patrols and surveillance at the border," Social Democrat spokesperson Trine Bramsen told Metroxpress. "This increase [in the number of tourists charged] is a sign that the government has acted strongly against tourists and others who come to Denmark and commit crimes. The police are simply catching more of them."

Newsweek's Europe correspondent, Elisabeth Braw said: "Though Denmark is an extremely open country, this news will strengthen the voices calling for stricter immigration control. Reactions to Metroxpress's article included 'Perhaps we should build a wall', and 'Time to close the borders'. Recent news of Romanian crime, including the case of a man arrested after stealing 14 mobile phones, have received a lot of attention."

Border controls in EU countries have been at the centre of debate in recent months. UK prime minister David Cameron and German chancellor Angela Merkel have clashed over the possible renegotiation of Britain's EU membership. The prime minister's stance has faced harsh criticism from Merkel, who has called the proposal to restrict EU migration in Britain an infringement on freedom of movement. The leaders will meet in London on Wednesday for their final talks before Britain's general election in May.