It’s often said that truth is the first casualty of war. In the age of mass media, we don’t even need to wait for the war. Right now, Europe is in the grip of its worst refugee crisis since Hitler decided to expand his living space by annexing Poland. While the general response has been one of compassion, a handful have used it as an opportunity to spread lies. Lies that are often so brazen, they cross the line from malicious into outright insanity:
10. The ISIS Refugee
One of the biggest (unfounded) fears of the crisis has been that ISIS fighters will try and sneak into Europe disguised as refugees. In early September 2015, those fears were apparently realized. In a widely-shared Facebook post, Peter Lee Goodchild put two images of the same man side-by-side: one taken during his time fighting in Syria, the other as he crossed into Europe. “Remember this guy?” he wrote, “Posing in ISIS photos last year – now he’s a “refugee.” Are we suckers or what!”
In fact, the only suckers were the ones who believed the post. The man Goodchild had identified as an ISIS recruit was really Laith Al Saleh, a commander of the Free Syrian Army – a group that has spent the last few years fighting against ISIS. After making enemies out of both Islamic State and al-Qaeda, he’d finally been forced to flee Syria for his safety. When the BBC confronted him with his epically moronic mistake, Goodchild was forced to apologize.
9. The Birmingham ISIS Fighter
Dumb as the tale of the ISIS refugee is, the confusion is at least vaguely understandable (if still incredibly insulting). Not so in the case of the above meme. Shared on Facebook in mid-September, it purported to show an ISIS convert first fleeing Syria, then preparing for holy war in Birmingham, UK. Emblazoned with the logos of the far-right English Defence League and Britain First, it was shared hundreds of thousands of times.
As you’ve probably already noticed, the guy in those photos is definitely not a refugee. That’s rapper Ice Cube, first in a shot from one of his godawful ‘comedies’, and second in a promo image from his NWA years. The meme was created as satire, to mock exactly the sort of people who shared the ISIS refugee photo. The majority of people who posted it to Facebook were in on the joke. However, the creator believes as many as ten percent of those who reposted were sharing it seriously. That’s thousands and thousands of people.
8. …And Just About Every Other Meme, Really
By now, it’s probably clear that sourcing your news from random memes isn’t the most fool-proof way of getting to the truth. Nonetheless, the internet continues to be flooded with new images daily, ‘proving’ refugees are undeserving of help. For example, the one above appears to show Syrian men have abandoned their wives and children to escape to Germany. After all, why else would there be no women and kids in the picture?
In fact, the image was taken from a video on the CBC news website, that heavily featured female and underage refugees in the same train station, on the same train. It’s not the only misleading image out there. Another shared on far-right websites shows thousands of refugees scrambling to board a ship. In reality, the picture was taken in Albania in 1991, and is so obviously old it seems impossible anyone would believe it. Others show fleeing Kurdish resistance fighters and label them ISIS recruits, or use photos taken years ago in different situations. If you want to see a comprehensive debunking of nearly every dumbass refugee meme out there, Vice have a good list here.
7. Many are Too Rich/Healthy to be Refugees
Ever since the crisis began, angry people have been furiously retweeting images of refugees with smartphones, or wearing nice clothes, or owning nice possessions. The argument goes that the money they have means they can’t possibly be refugees. After all, if they have money, they have no reason to flee their home. Therefore they’re just migrants looking for handouts.
This argument misunderstands what a refugee is to a near-hilarious degree. In a war as total and devastating as the one in Syria, wealth, status and possessions are no protection against dying in the most-horrible way imaginable. You’re just as likely to end up under a barrel bomb if you own a nice watch than if you’re too poor to eat. Prior to the war, most Syrians were actually relatively well off. During WWII, many of the Jews who fled Hitler’s insanity were middle class or even actively wealthy. This doesn’t make any of them less worthy of their refugee status.
6. The Aylan Kurdi Photo was Staged
Unless you’ve got a heart made of stone and the howling screams of the damned, the photo of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi likely shook you to your core. The 3-year old died in a failed crossing after his family tried to flee the carnage engulfing their home country. Since then the photo of his body has become a kind of far-right rallying cry… and not in a good way. There are people out there who claim Aylan Kurdi’s photo was staged to elicit sympathy for migrants.
Their argument hinges on images apparently taken of Aylan lying on a different part of beach and wearing different clothes prior to his last, iconic photo. All of which simply proves how deeply unobservant these lunatics are. The ‘other’ photos of Aylan are actually of his drowned older brother, who died at the same time and whose clothes are different and limbs visibly longer. Nonetheless, this hasn’t stopped the UK’s leading human-shaped empathy void from repeating the dumbass theory.
5. Most Aren’t Refugees and Aren’t From Syria
Despite the devastating war there, many remain unconvinced that Syrian refugees make up the bulk of those arriving in Europe. Some even dispute they make up a significant percentage. In mid-September, the Daily Mail ran a headline crowing that the EU’s own figures proved only 20% of those reaching Europe were from Syria. Their article took the concept of cherry-picking data and ran with it to ludicrous extremes.
Rather than look at both Italy and Greece – the two main entry points for refugees and migrants – the Mail chose to specifically look at Italy. This is important as Greece has had hundreds of thousands more refugees cross its borders, and is the main entry point for those fleeing Syria. The Mail also only tracked data up to mid-June, before the crisis went supernova. By including both Greece and the last four months, the percentage of migrants arriving as Syrian refugees rise to 51%.
Nor are the remaining 49% simple economic migrants. UN figures show a further 14% come from war-torn Afghanistan, and another 8% are fleeing the psychopathic dictatorship in Eritrea. Many of the rest are from places like Boko Haram-controlled northern Nigeria, ISIS-controlled Iraq, and Darfur (where a genocide is underway).
4. One in 50 Refugees is an ISIS Fighter
As we mentioned way back in number 10, one of people’s biggest fears about the crisis is that ISIS will use it as a way of smuggling jihadists into Europe. In mid-September, that nasty rumor seemed to acquire official support. In a meeting with David Cameron, Lebanese Education minister Elias Bou Saab said 1-in-50, or two percent, of refugees were ISIS fighters. As a government minister in the country that has proportionally taken the most refugees out of anywhere, it seemed reasonable to assume he would know.
However, that wasn’t the case. When pressed on his statement, Saab later admitted he hadn’t actually investigated the manner. His comments were based on his “gut feeling,” a fancy way of saying he made the damn thing up. The UN called his comments “extremely unhelpful” and pointed out that any evidence linking refugees to ISIS would be enough to get them stripped of their refugee status and sent back home.
3. All the Refugees are Muslims
One of the biggest assumptions people make about the refugees is that they’re pretty much all Muslim. After all, the argument goes, they’re mainly coming from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. As Muslim countries, it stands to reason those fleeing them should be Muslims too, right?
Not even close. While there certainly are many Muslims among those entering Europe, plenty of other religions are represented too. The population of Syria, for example, is at least 10-12 percent Christian, with another 2-3 percent members of the Druze minority – an Abrahamic faith that believes in reincarnation. In Eritrea, nearly two thirds of the population identify as Christian, while about half of all Nigerians are members of the faith. In Iraq, Yazidis and Zoroastrians are chief among those fleeing ISIS, with 70,000 Yazidis alone having fled by August 2014. A small but significant number of Kurds fighting and fleeing ISIS are members of the PKK; a Communist, atheist organization.
There are definitely lots of Muslims currently entering Europe, but there are plenty of other religions in there too. But even if the refugees were only Muslims, that wouldn’t make their reasons for fleeing any less understandable.
2. Europe Will be Overwhelmed
By July, 340,000 refugees and migrants had crossed into Europe in 2015. Before winter sets in and makes crossings effectively impossible, it’s thought the number could reach as high as 500,000. That’s a huge number of people: more than the entire population of Iceland. It’s the highest influx of refugees into the EU ever recorded. With such massive numbers, people are taking to social media to declare Europe will be completely overrun by the refugee “swarms”.
The people making these claims have failed to take one thing into account: the European Union is massive. Not just ‘big’, but stupendously, crazily huge. By landmass, the EU would be the 7th largest country on Earth. By population, it would be the third largest, after only China and India. Compared to the EU’s 503million inhabitants, the number of refugees entering is tiny. The highest estimate of 500,000 entering this year would still account for less than 0.1% of the total population – a figure that doesn’t include the many who are refused entry and deported.
The reason the number feels higher is because many of the refugees are currently concentrated in a small number of countries and camps. Once refugees are distributed fairly around the EU, this worry should dissipate.
1. Hordes of Refugees are Coming to America
Outside of Europe, you would think the reaction to the refugee crisis would be calmer. That hasn’t exactly been the case. While most of the country has debated the crisis sensibly, a vocal minority of far-right Americans have become convinced a government plot is underway to overwhelm the country with Muslims. According to them, 100,000 Syrian Muslims will be brought in annually, until the United States is completely overwhelmed.
We would say “it’s a good story, but…” except it isn’t even remotely good. It’s simply a story, fabricated to scare people. US immigration controls following 9/11 make it incredibly difficult for Syrians to enter the country, even as asylum seekers. In September, the White House formally announced it would take 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. That’s a number far lower than some German cities are taking. It’s also a surprisingly low number for the US. America absorbs around 70,000 – 80,000 refugees every single year, without breaking stride. There’s no reason to think an extra 10,000 Syrians will change that. In fact, you could argue it’s a humanitarian duty.