The viral roots of Trump's Syria refugee 'solution'

Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Keene, New Hampshire. Image copyright Getty Images

If Donald Trump becomes US president, he says he's going to deport all refugees of the Syrian civil war who have been allowed on US soil. His justification for such a move has drawn criticism for being based on questionable evidence and sketchy numbers, however.

During a campaign stop in Keene, New Hampshire, on Wednesday night, the New York billionaire warned of what he saw as a possible "200,000-man army" of so-called Islamic State sympathisers entering the US under the guise of refugees.

"Did you ever see a migration like that?" he asked. "They're all men. And they're all strong looking guys! Did you see it? They're walking, and there are so many men there aren't that many women, and I'm saying to myself, why aren't they fighting to save Syria? Why are they migrating all over Europe?"

Mr Trump's comments on the Syrian refugee crisis echo similar statements by politicians around the world. Winston Peters, head of the centre-right New Zealand First Party, objected to admitting male Syrian refugees.

"Let's bring the women and children and tell some of the men to go back and fight for their own country's freedom," he said.

During a Canadian leaders' debate in September, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was attacked by his two opponents in the upcoming general election for not admitting more refugees.

"These guys would have had, in the last two weeks, us throwing open our borders and literally hundreds of thousands of people coming without any kind of security check or documentation," he said, calling such a move "an enormous mistake".

During his remarks in Keene, Mr Trump added that such a secret army could be "one of the great tactical ploys of all time" - and that a President Trump would foil it.

"I know a lot of people will say, 'Oh that's not nice,'" he said. "We can't afford to be nice."

Mr Trump's assertions appear drawn, in part, from the realm of internet memes, viral Facebook posts and right-wing commentary that have portrayed the refugees flooding out of the Middle East as largely composed of young male militants.

Earlier this month photos purported to be of an IS-fighter-turned-refugee were shared by tens of thousands before being debunked by the BBC.

Another series of photos allegedly showed muscle-bound Syrian men posing as refugees, but in reality the images came from Australia.

Vice writer Philip Kleinfeld found that a photo of young Syrian men walking through a Munich train station accompanied by text alleging that they left "women and children in a war zone" was taken from a video that showed the crowd contained many women and children as well.

Conservative media in the US have also picked up on these themes. Radio host Rush Limbaugh said last month that the Syrian refugees might be IS "sleepers".

"Obama's flying Syrian refugees into this country, and it's the same demographic makeup," he said. "Eighty percent male, most of them military age: 18, 21, 22, somewhere around there."

Image copyright facebook
Image caption This viral Facebook post, debunked by the BBC, purportedly shows an Islamic militant posing as a refugee

Conservative author Kurt Schlichter, writing for IJReview, called the male refugees "cowards" who are leaving behind women and children.

"America is supposed to be the Home of the Brave, not the Hostel of the Gutless," he writes.

The number of Syrian refugees arriving in Europe via the Mediterranean Sea is about 70% male of unspecified age - perhaps a reflection of the dangers of travel on overloaded boats. Of the 4 million total Syrians dislocated by the civil war, however, the UN Refugee Agency estimates that slightly more than half are female.

"It's a helluva thing, decrying the courage of people facing categories of hardship no native-born American has had to endure," writes Matt Welch of the libertarian Reason Magazine. "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?"

It's not clear where Mr Trump gets the 200,000 number for US-bound refugees. The US has granted entry to 1,500 Syrians so far - of which 52% are male. Secretary of State John Kerry has proposed increasing the annual number of refugees from around the world granted residency in the US to 100,000 by 2017, but there's no indication that the male-female ratio would change substantially.

Elsewhere on the US presidential campaign trail, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush offered a sharp response to Mr Trump's comments.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The UN Refugee Agency estimates that more than half the Syrian refugees are women

"Send them all back? To a hellhole?" Mr Bush said. "This is the same guy, by the way, that is also advocating exactly what seems to be supportive of Putin and his emergence in Syria. That's not the proper policy for the United States."

Gut-reaction statements by Mr Trump shouldn't come as much of a surprise, given that the success of his candidacy has been premised on his non-PC, tell-it-like-he-sees-it style of improvised speechmaking.

Last week Mr Trump took a swipe at a fellow presidential aspirant, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, for apparently being a little too studious when it comes to foreign policy.

"Look, Marco Rubio sits behind a desk sometimes, and he reads stuff, and he's in committees," Mr Trump said. "That's all he does. I create jobs all day long. I'll know more about all of this than all of them put together."

Unlike Mr Rubio, Mr Trump asserts he has a "winning strategy" for Syria - although he maintains that he's keeping it to himself so IS won't know what's coming.

Except for any Syrian refugees currently living in the US, of course.

Candidates in (and out of) the Republican presidential field