DEBUNKED: The European Refugee Crisis and Syria Explained

The popular YouTube channel “In a Nutshell – Kurzgesagt” has recently posted an animated video titled “The European Refugee Crisis and Syria Explained” [1] wherein they present a biased and dishonest overview of the current migrant crisis and the effects it will have on European society. In this post I will be focusing on the part of the video that addresses four concerns that people may have about the arrival of these migrants into Europe which are concerns about “Islam, high birth rates, crime, and the collapse of the social systems”.

Addressing the concern about Islam, the video states:

“Even if the EU alone were to accept all four million Syrian refugees and 100% of them were Muslims, the percentage of Muslims in the European Union would only rise from about 4% to about 5%. This is not a drastic change and will certainly not make it a Muslim continent. A Muslim minority is neither new nor reason to be afraid.”

The first thing to note is that while the video is correct that there are currently a little over four million registered Syrian refugees, this figure does not include unregistered refugees and people currently in Syria who could become refugees in the future. And it is highly unlikely there won’t be any more Syrians leaving considering that the civil war is still ongoing and that there are no signs of slowing migration out of Syria. Given this, there is no reason to believe that four million Syrian refugees is the upper limit like the video implies.

Secondly, the video states that four million refugees entering the EU would only increase the percentage of Muslims from 4% to 5%. But this is not a very relevant number because the migrants would not be evenly distributed across EU countries. For instance, Germany has announced that it expects to take in one million migrants in 2015 [2]. Although they will not all be Syrian this will increase Germany’s Muslim population from 5% to 6.25% in one year alone, and if Germany stayed at this level of acceptance for another three years it would become a 10% Muslim country by refugees alone. So although these recent migrants will not make Europe a Muslim continent they still represent a substantial increase in the prevalence of Islam for certain countries.

The video then moves on to state that:

“Studies have shown that even though birth rates are higher among Muslims in Europe, they drop and adjust as the standard of living and level of education rises."

This is correct, Muslim fertility rates in Europe drop over time, but the video then goes on to state:

“Most Syrian refugees already are educated, the birth rate in Syria before the civil war was not very high, and the population was actually shrinking, not growing.”

The claim that most Syrian refugees are educated is very vague since education can be defined in many different ways. For instance, simply graduating from elementary could qualify one to be considered educated. In reality, when it comes to the rate of enrollment in post-secondary education Syria was below the world average in 2011 with just 25% of students continuing education after high school compared to a rate of 66% for the European Union [3].

As for the claim that before the war Syria’s birth rate was low and its population declining: this is flat out false. Syria’s birth rate in 2011 was higher than any other European country and higher than the world average [4]. And simply looking at a graph shows that at no point from 1960 to 2014 did Syria’s population ever decline year to year [5]. Only just recently in 2015 has the population of Syria declined due to displacement as a result of the civil war, but this has nothing to do with fertility and occurred after the start of the civil war.

To address the concern that Syrian refugees will raise crime levels in Europe the video states:

“The fear that refugees lead to higher crime rates also turns out to be wrong. Refugees who become immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native population."

To back up this claim the video cites an article from the Wall Street Journal and another from The Economist both of which argue that there is no relationship between immigrants and crime. But these sources are fatally flawed in two different ways.

Firstly, both articles are exclusively about immigration and crime in the United States and so are completely irrelevant to the crime rate of refugees in Europe. But just for the sake of argument I will briefly address why the conclusion of the two articles are flawed regardless. Put simply, in both articles all the studies on the incarceration rates of immigrants that they cite use data from a flawed source: the U.S. Census. Without going into too much detail, the U.S. Census gathers data on immigrants and non-citizens in prison by simply asking the inmates themselves about their immigrant status. And as this paper published in 2009 by the Center for Immigration Studies explains, there is good reason and evidence to believe that immigrants are giving unreliable answers out of fear of being deported and so underestimates the number of immigrants is U.S. prisons [6]. Although one of the sources in the video claimed that Syrians in Turkey were less likely to be involved in a criminal case than average, involvement in a criminal case is not the same thing as being convicted (or even charged) of a crime so this does not reflect an actual crime rates of Syrian refugees.

Not only did the video not properly substantiate their claim that refugees commit crime at a lower rate than natives, but there is also evidence that clearly demonstrates that this is very likely to be wrong – Muslims and third-world immigrants in Europe commit crime at a higher rate than natives in almost every European country for which data is available.

For instance, in Sweden immigrants from Africa and South & Western Asia are more likely to be charged of a crime than individuals born to two Swedish parents by a factor of 4.5 and 3.5 respectively [7] and between 1985 and 1989 individuals born in Iraq or Africa were convicted of rape at rates 17 to 23 times greater than individuals born in Sweden [8]. In Norway, according to a 2011 government report in 2009 first generation immigrants from Africa were three times more likely than ethnic Norwegians to be convicted of a felony while Iraqi and Pakistanis were found to have rates of conviction for felonies greater than ethnic Norwegians by a factor of 3 and 2.6 respectively [9]. The report also found that second-generation African and Asian immigrants had an even higher rate of convictions for felonies than first-generation immigrants.

Many will call attention to the low socioeconomic status of immigrants in Europe, but a Danish report on crime statistics published in 2014 found that even after controlling for age and socioeconomic status individuals whose ethnic background is from Morocco, Somalia, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Iraq are still overrepresented as convicted criminals by a factor of 1.5 to 2.5 [10]. A similar pattern is seen other countries such as the UK [11], Germany [12], and most of all, France, where Muslims account for up to 70% of all inmates despite being only 10% of the population [13][14].

Clearly, therefore, the claim that refugees will not raise crime rates in Europe is almost guaranteed to be false given that Muslims and third-world immigrants pose a crime problem for almost every European country.

Finally, the video claims:

“When allowed to work, they tend to start businesses and integrate themselves into the workforce as fast as possible, paying more into the social systems than they extract from them."

Unfortunately nothing in the claim is backed up by any of the sources provided so to address it I will examine these claims in the context of the UK (because it is easiest to research data on English-speaking countries). First of all, there’s no doubt that some refugees will start businesses and integrate into the workforce, but looking overall at Muslims in the UK it is clear that their rate of economic participation is the lowest of any religious group. According to a 2011 ONS report Muslims had the highest rate of unemployment of any religious group – 17% versus a rate of 6% among Christians [15]. And according to a non-published 2011 Census document released by Wikileaks Muslims had the highest rate of disability with almost a quarter of Muslim males claiming some kind of disability [16].

In regard to the claim that migrants will contribute more to social system that they take out of it, a 2015 literature review of the fiscal impact of immigration into the UK indicates that all studies reviewed found that immigrants from outside the European Economic Area have been a net fiscal burden – that is, they take more out of social service than they pay into it [17].

So as we have seen all the concerns that the video addressed are indeed valid concerns: The current rate Muslim immigration will quickly alter the demographics of the European countries receiving most of the migrants, Syrians are in fact under-educated and have high birth rates in Syria, Muslims across Europe have higher crime rates than natives, and at least in the UK, Muslims are the least economically active demographic and pose the greatest strain social systems. In addition to these specific concerns about the effect that the Migrant Crisis will have on Europe, I have also addressed other negative effects of Muslims immigration to Europe such as ethnic/cultural tension, the risk of terrorism, the prevalence of radicalism, and the weakening of social cohesion [18]. Taken together it is obvious that Islam poses a serious demographic, cultural, and safety threat to the European way of life that many currently enjoy.

Originally published at Psych and Society