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Fact Checking the Fact Checkers - Case 2, Snopes and the Young Male Migrants

by Chauncey Tinker – 4 Dec 2018

As promised I am here taking a closer look at this supposed fact-check from Snopes:

Are Refugees Overwhelmingly Young and Male?

The first thing to do in a fact check would logically be to describe exactly the fact we are checking. The Snopes article begins however by stating a very vague claim indeed:

Are Refugees Overwhelmingly Young and Male?

They have rated this claim as “mostly false“.

Of course there is a huge difference between genuine refugees fleeing from war zones or state persecution in fear for their lives and migrants either simply looking for a better life or perhaps fleeing from difficult economic circumstances that are not life threatening. In the first paragraph Snopes then mentions 2011 and the war in Syria as a starting point but then goes on to also mention other countries in very different and unconnected circumstances:

Since government-sponsored violence began in Syria in 2011 (and many other countries faced destabilization, crushing poverty, untenable violence, or some combination of the three) waves of immigrants, migrants, and refugees have swept into the European and American continents ….

So, far from beginning the article by clarifying exactly what fact they are checking, they have begun by blurring the question even further by including countries where no war is taking place and also seeming to expand the question to include not only refugees but economic migrants as well. There follows some emotive language about “anti-immigrant sentiment” and “rumors and misinformation” that is designed to play on our heart strings rather than add any clarity to the subject at hand.

In the next paragraph they focus on a particular meme, which shows a picture of (almost all) men disembarking from a train in a station “taken in Munich in September 2015” which they state:

has been used to illustrate the claim that a disproportionately large number of refugees and migrants are young and male


Despite having begun by seeming to expand the question to include all the migrants heading to Europe from 2011 onwards, they now inform us that the claim is contradicted by statistics specifically only about Syrian refugees. Moreover, the statistics they cite refer only to refugees who fled to North Africa and Middle Eastern countries (i.e. who didn’t necessarily travel as far as Europe):

However, the statistics on refugees contradict this claim. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as of 16 March 2016 they had recorded nearly 5 million registered Syrian refugees: 2.1 million of them in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, another 1.9 million in Turkey, and more than 28,000 in North Africa. Of that group of 5 million refugees, more than half (50.7%) are female

Not surprisingly, the demographic makeup of these groups of (presumably) mostly genuine refugees from the war in Syria are indeed in line with the age and gender demographics of Syria! The meme they are questioning however shows migrants getting off a train in Germany, far away from the war zone. All we can tell from the meme photograph is that the (mostly young) men are darker skinned than Europeans and are of Middle Eastern or North African appearance. It is far from clear what percentage of these migrants who have arrived in Germany are even from Syria, and Snopes provides no data to clarify this; in fact they say that they don’t have such data and further on in the article they quote a caption that they say comes with the photograph:

Many of the migrants are coming from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and are reaching western Europe via the Balkans

So again, if even the particular meme they show allegedly includes migrants from much further afield than Syria then why are they only quoting these statistics about Syrian refugees?

If we look at some data from elsewhere (not quoted by Snopes) on the specific question of the demographics of migrants arriving in Europe, a very different picture emerges. From Pew Global’s analysis of Eurostat data:

Asylum seeker demography: Young and male

Note this data is only for those who have sought asylum, not all migrants, and the proportion of young men could well be even higher among immigrants who do not claim asylum. The article includes a table for 2015 asylum claims in Europe that shows percentages by gender and age by country of origin. In the case of some countries such as Gambia there are almost no females at all – 3% females and 97% males. All countries in the table show a majority of males, in the case of the 3 countries listed in the above quote the male/female ratio is:

[Note: Although I have added children to the relevant male/female percentages for simplicity here, I think this is reasonable partly because we know by now that many migrants have claimed to be children to increase their chances of being granted asylum, and countries including the UK have refused to make any serious attempt at age verification.]

Also Pew Global states that in the same year only 29% of migrants were from Syria and 10% from Iraq, i.e. only 39% of asylum seekers were from the countries affected by the war. Remember again also that these are only the statistics for those who claimed asylum, many more migrants no doubt come but don’t claim asylum (obviously we’ve no real way of establishing how many), and those who don’t claim asylum are less likely to be from the war zone. Furthermore, some proportion of migrants claiming to be from Syria had no papers and were not actually from Syria (again we’ve no real way of establishing how many).

Asylum seeker origins: A rapid rise for most countries


Rather mind-bogglingly, the Snopes article goes on to try to explain why most of the migrants reaching Europe are young men – you could be forgiven for thinking this is exactly the claim the article is supposed to be challenging:

However, there are more able-bodied young men and fewer children among the refugees regularly showing up at Europe’s shores in boats. The reason for this is simple: the journey by sea is relatively short (in some places only 2.5 miles, or 4 kilometers) but fraught with dangers on the water, as well as on land once the refugees arrive.

This is followed by a description of the dangers the migrants face on the journey. What they are trying to suggest here is that the young men often go ahead of the women and children to find a safer destination. Of course genuine refugees are supposed to stop in the first safe country however, and many of the migrants arriving in Europe have already travelled through more than one safe country and even many of them are originating from countries that are supposed to be safe in the first place.


Finally, the Snopes article tries to challenge the meme image by showing us more images:

These images appear to support the “overwhelmingly young and male” claim that circulates in memes such as these (and is often uncritically repeated by politicians). However, there’s an excellent reason there women and children aren’t seen in this crowd: They were all traveling on a separate train which arrived in Munich a day later:

Although in this additional image there are indeed some women and children (not very many), but there are also at least as many men as well even in this image. Obviously these images they selectively present to us cannot be regarded as conclusive proof of anything on their own, but even in the images they have presented to us there are disproportionately far more men altogether if you add them all up.


The people who created the meme Snopes are challenging are no doubt Europeans concerned about the high proportion of migrants arriving in Europe (from many countries of origin) who are young men. Snopes have first tried to deflect our attention away from this concern and instead focused on the demographics of refugees only from Syria who have first fled to other parts of the Middle East and to Africa. Migrants who are travelling all the way to Germany are less likely to be genuine refugees and more likely to be opportunistically taking advantage of the crisis in Syria.

Next the article admits that the migrants arriving in Europe are mostly young men, but tries to deflect our attention once again by suggesting that the young men are just coming first because of the dangers of getting to Europe. Never mind the fact that technically once they have left the first safe country they are no longer classifiable as refugees, but much more importantly that a large proportion of these supposed refugees are not refugees at all in the first place but coming from other regions and countries not affected by the war.

This supposed “fact-check” by Snopes is nothing of the kind, it is a blatant piece of pro-immigration, pro-open borders propaganda, nothing more.



The Orwellian War On Fake News – Part 1

Fact Checking The Fact Checkers – Case 1, A Disturbance at Starbucks


From Forbes:

The Daily Mail Snopes Story And Fact Checking The Fact Checkers

Quote from the above article reveals the degree to which Snopes is respected by the “journalistic community”:

I immediately suspected the story itself must certainly be “fake news” because of how devastating the claims were and that given that Snopes.com was so heavily used by the journalistic community, if any of the claims were true, someone would have already written about them and companies like Facebook would not be partnering with them


The 1951 Refugee Convention

What do you think? Is the Snopes "fact-check" misleading? Please leave a comment below.

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