No, Ben Carson and Donald Trump, the Majority of Syrian Refugees to the U.S. Are Not 'Young Males' [UPDATED]

It's stupid season for American political commentary about the refugee crisis


Thath righth I with my thongue! ||| Fox News
Fox News

On Sept. 14, Ben Carson, who has been the number-two GOP presidential candidate in every national poll for more than a month, was asked by CNN's John Berman the following question about the Syrian refugee crisis: "Do you think that the United States needs to be willing to let more of these refugees into this country?" Carson's answer, in part:

the majority of them are young males. And they could easily be people who are being infiltrated by terrorists and recognize that once you bring them in, then you have got to bring other members of the family in. 

This echoes sentiments from Donald Trump, who has topped every national Republican poll since mid-July. On Sept. 9, when asked by Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity about whether we should be worried about radicals being mixed in with refugees coming to the U.S. from Syria and Iraq, Trump said, in part,

And if you look at a lot of the people that I've been watching on television, it's men. There aren't that many women, relatively speaking.

Trump, whose shifting answers on the question have settled on a policy of accepting zero Syrian refugees, has also made repeated claims that Christian refugees from Syria "cannot come into this country," which is an easily disprovable lie.

I used to live about a mile from this picture. ||| Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

There are actual statistics about what kind of refugees the United States has accepted from Syria, available at the State Department's Refugee Processing Center website. I searched between March 1, 2011, and Sept. 30, 2015*, and found the following stats about the 1,849 admitted refugees during that time period:

52.5% are male, 47.5% are female

30% are between the ages of 21 and 40, 42.4% are under 14

95.6% are Muslim, 2.3% are Christian (this compares to an estimated population within Syria of 87% and 10%, respectively)

These numbers track with what we know about Syrian refugees overall. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has estimated that 50.5 percent of all 4 million-plus Syrian refugees are female, 51.1 percent are children (17 and under), and that just 21.8 percent are males between ages 18 and 59.

Nevertheless, fear of the Muslim "military-aged male" has shot through the commentary about the refugee crisis, particularly as it concerns Europe—where at least the assertion has more statistical validity. Here's a typical recent claim, from Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas):

Seventy percent of these people that are going into Western Europe today are military-aged males 20-30 years old. According to the UN, only 15 percent are [children] and 13 percent are women.

The most recent figures from the UNHCR about sea-born arrivals to Europe in 2015 do bear some resemblance to Babin's math: Just 13% of the nearly 521,000 transplants (of which 55% come from Syria) have indeed been female, 18% have been children, and 69% men. But note that that 69% is for all men, not those in their 20s (as in the congressman's claim), or those between 20 and 40, as you also often hear.

So just how many of those 69% are of military age? I've got a request into the UNHCR for clarification. But it's safe to assume that the proportion is considerably larger than that of the overall population of Syrian refugees. Why is that?

Rush Limbaugh, for one, suspects "sleeper agents," and he's hardly alone. But there's another explanation hiding right there in plain sight: Military-aged males are better suited for potentially deadly international travel. What's more, they are precisely the people most likely to be targeted and conscripted by various regimes and armed gangs within a war-zone hellhole.

On the hardiness factor, consider these two charts from the Pew Hispanic Center, showing the demographic differences between legal and illegal immigrants in the United States:

A veritable hornet's nest of Mexicans! ||| Pew Hispanic Center
Pew Hispanic Center
Where all the brown women at? ||| Pew Hispanic Center
Pew Hispanic Center

In the legal-immigrant category, the biggest cohorts are between ages 30 and 50, and the males and females are evenly split. Among illegals—by definition the ones most inclined to take risks, including to their physical wellbeing—the demographics tilt decisively toward—wait for it!—military-aged males.

As for motivation, I can testify having lived not far from Yugoslavia for most of the 1990s that a preponderance of war refugees into the rest of Europe were men in their 20s, for the very good reason that they didn't want to die, or to kill people.

Which makes our Syrian refugees a bunch of goddamned pussies, according to American tuff guys like Kurt Schlichter:

Here's a better response from the United States and Europe to the hordes of primarily military-aged males fleeing Syria, Iraq, Libya and other war-torn Third World hellholes: Go home and fight for your own damn countries, you cowards. The situations their people have created for themselves back home are apparently so bad that we Westerners are morally compelled to open our homes and checkbooks to them, so why the hell would we want a bunch of mostly young men who left behind their women and children? America is supposed to be the Home of the Brave, not the Hostel of the Gutless.

At least we know how Michael Malice is gonna age. ||| Fox News
Fox News

These people "should be back fixing their own countries," concurred Lt. Col. Ralph Peters. It's a helluva thing, decrying the courage of people facing categories of hardship no native-born American has had to endure. Should those Jews have just stayed in Russia in the 1980s? Should the boat people have instead stood their ground against the likes of Pol Pot?

Well, at least no one is calling the refugee crisis a "false flag" operation engineered by Washington elites to trigger a "color revolution" in Macedonia. Ha ha, just kidding.

Refugee resettlements on this scale make for very hard public policy, and security concerns are definitely part of the complexity. There's a reason why the '80s-era party platforms of both Republicans and Democrats talked less about illegal immigration than about the "refugee crisis." I for one think America's first moral obligation should be toward people in Afghanistan and Iraq who face misery as a result of cooperating with us during our long occupations there.

But the challenge of making good refugee policy is that much harder when seemingly everyone is talking nonsense.

* UPDATE: At the prompting of a dozen would-be Internet sleuths, who accused me in various descriptions of "cherry-picking" these numbers from 2011 in order to "intentionally" mislead (as opposed to, I don't know, choosing a date that corresponds to the start of the Syrian civil war), I conducted the same search for 2015 alone. Unsurprisingly, the change of time parameters changes nothing.

Here's the 2015 Syrians-to-U.S. stats, compared to my original series dating from March 1, 2011:

52.9% male (was 52.5%)

29.7% between the ages of 21 and 40 (was 30%)

97.6% Muslim (was 95.6%)

You would find largely the same numbers if you selected only for September, a research exercise that would be considerably more useful to the public discourse than throwing around unfounded accusations at strangers on the Internet.

To repeat a point slowly, and in fewer characters: The majority of refugees from Syria to the United States has not been, is not currently, and likely will not be in the future, "military-aged males," despite the fact that around 7 out of 10 Muslim-world refugees ariving into Europe via the Mediterranean Sea are adult men. The difference in demographic composition is very likely to do with the fact U.S. refugees arrive via filling out paperwork, while EU refugees largely arrive by cramming into boats. The underlying universe of Syrian refugees is actually slightly more female. Basing U.S. policy out of fear of disproportionately military-aged males is at best a confession of ignorance.