With refugees arriving en masse to Europe, not all leaders are proving themselves to be like Angela “Merkel the Bold” Merkel, who powerfully declared “if we have to apologize for showing a friendly face in an emergency, than this is no longer my country.”
Rather, some European leaders are drawing on a less welcoming strain of European politics to spread mistruths and scare Europeans from opening their borders to Syrian refugees. It’s shameful stuff–and they deserved to be called out.
Here are five myths that European leaders are invoking in order to skirt their obligations to refugees crossing their borders.
1) These are not refugees, but simply economic migrants taking advantage of the opportunity and good will of Europe.
Who Spread It:
“I have seen the images of the illegal immigrants who have come, who were brought to Germany from Hungary … in these images, 99 percent are men. Well, I think that men who flee their country and leave their families back home, don’t do so to flee persecution. It is clearly for economic reasons.” –Marine Le Pen, France’s National Front Party leader
“The majority that are coming are economic migrants.”-Nigel Farage, United Kingdom Independence Party leader
First, the dangers of crossing the Mediterranean in overcrowded, makeshift boats is common knowledge, with thousands of deaths resulting from this journey each year. The past year’s upsurge in crossings has seen a parallel upsurge in deaths, with an eighteen-time increase in the number of deaths that occurred between January and April 2015. It is therefore not surprising that some men choose to make the journey alone, with hopes to bring their families through safer means. Aylan Kurdi, the toddler whose body was found washed up on the sands of Bodrum, Turkey, has become a symbol for the danger of such crossings for children.
It is difficult to collect representative data on all of the individuals who have crossed, or are currently attempting to cross, into Europe. However, European Union states, known for their strict asylum laws, have to date granted over 90% of Syrian-origin individuals asylum status, according to an Economist report published on September 7th, 2015. The same report notes that 90% of those hailing from Eritrea; over 85% of those hailing from Iraq; and over 65% of those hailing from Afghanistan have similarly been granted this status. In short, it can be expected that the vast majority of asylum seekers in this large constituency (most from Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan) will qualify for refugee status.
2) Refugees seek to infiltrate the German welfare state, rather than contribute to German or other European economies.
Who Spread it:
“If they want to continue on from Hungary, it’s not because they are in danger, it’s because they want something else…a German life” –Viktor Orban, Hungarian Prime Minister
“We have the largest reservations and concerns…that we will receive a migration into the German social system.” –Horst Seehofer, Bavarian Prime Minister, Germany
The reality: Perhaps in the short term this may prove true, in that individuals cannot legally work during asylum status determination. Instead, they are provided temporary housing and finances to cover basic living costs, such as food and utilities. However, refugees have proved time and again to be economic assets to countries of settlement in the medium to long term. In fact, many economists believe that the current influx of refugees will contribute to economic growth. A Brookings Institution article explains that refugees contribute to both economic development and growth, citing the positive impacts of current Syrian refugees on the economic situation of Lebanon; and those that fled the 1990s civil wars in Rwanda and Burundi’s positive influence on the economy of Tanzania.
3) This mass movement constitutes an Islamic invasion of Europe. Men from the Middle East currently flood Europe in an attempt to forcefully spread Islam.
Who Spread It:
“Masses of young men in their twenties with beards singing Allahu Akbar across Europe. It’s an invasion that threatens our prosperity, our security, our culture and identity.” –Geert Wilders, Dutch far-right leader
“ISIS are using this route to put jihadists on European soil.” –Nigel Farage, United Kingdom Leader
The same Economist statistics on the recognition of asylum seekers noted above, which demonstrate that the vast majority of nationals from war-ridden Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan receive refugee status, refute this point. Of course, ISIS leadership capitalizes on this fear, claiming to infiltrate the tide of refugees with its militants. However, as noted by an anonymous, high-ranking French intelligence official, “at this stage we have no indication that jihadists are mixing with refugees.” The Soufan Group, an intelligence consultancy, also makes an important point in a recent briefing: “The unknowable nature of the threat…makes it susceptible to exaggeration and exploitation. That a few terrorists may be hidden among hundreds of thousands of refugees is perceived as a greater threat than the destabilizing consequences of a massive humanitarian crisis—though in reality, the latter threat is much greater.”
4) As an “Islamic invasion of Europe”, this is an attack on Europe’s (Judeo)-Christian identity.
Who Spread It
“A grand strategy of a slow destruction of Christian-Jewish values and roots. A new, more sophisticated version of Turkish invasions.”- Damir Crncec, former director of Slovenia’s Intelligence and Security Agency.
There is simply no evidence that refugees currently flock to Europe in order to undermine (what remains of) a Christian culture or identity. This myth simply draws on the fears prevalent among certain sectors of society that Christianity is being challenged or lost, in an era where numbers of those active in the church in many European countries are rapidly declining. Of course, the above-noted unproven claims made by ISIS serve to solidify these fears.
5) This crisis is not the responsibility of Europe.
Who Spread It
“The pressure from the never-ending influx of refugees is oversized and excruciating. There are 60 million refugees at the borders? How should we handle these masses, Lord? We cannot save the whole world.” –Andreas Scheuer, Christian Social Union General Secretary, Germany
Such quotes exaggerate the numbers of refugees in or en-route to Europe. Furthermore, countries in the Middle East and North Africa have much larger numbers of refugees per capita than any European country. As UN research demonstrated, putting the current numbers in perspective: Lebanon has 232 refugees per 1000 persons; Jordan 87 per 1000; and Turkey 21 per 1000. This compares to Germany, with 4.2 per 1000. Finally, European Union asylum law requires all asylum seekers to be processed and assessed once they touch EU soil.
In sum, it is important to keep in mind that the same politicians claiming refugees to be economic migrants seeking to exploit the German welfare state and Europe writ-large are also those who claim that these refugees are Islamic Jihadists seeking to destroy “(Judeo)-Christian” Europe. The shifting paradigms of exclusion, all drawing on fears among the European populace, attempt to disqualify refugees from acquiring their rightful status—if not in legal terms, at least in terms of popular opinion.