World Refugee Day: Refugee claims and U.S. politics

A Yazidi refugee family from Iraq, cry and embrace shortly after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos in 2015. (AP)
A Yazidi refugee family from Iraq, cry and embrace shortly after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos in 2015. (AP)

The flow of over a million refugees into Europe produced a humanitarian challenge that rapidly morphed into a political flashpoint in Germany, Austria and other European nations. If the issue is less pressing in America, it has still become a familiar part of the presidential campaign.

In our storehouse of claims, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has provided the lion’s share.

In recognition of World Refugee Day, we offer a sampling.

Trump on refugees

Trump has said that Hillary Clinton "plans to massively increase admissions" of Middle East refugees, including a 500 percent increase in the number of Syrians coming to America. That’s Mostly True.

President Barack Obama announced he would like to see 10,000 Syrian refugees admitted. Clinton went further and said she thought the country should accept 65,000. That’s more than a fivefold increase. The biggest caveat is that is a cumulative total, not the number for any single year.

He got another Mostly True for his claim that American admits more than 100,000 lifetime migrants from the Middle East each year. The only thing to bear in mind is that total relies on a broad definition of the Middle East that includes Pakistan, Morocco and Algeria.

Trump strayed from the truth when he talked about America’s ability to vet refugees applying for asylum. He said we have no system. That rates False. The country has had one since 1980. It involves multiple federal intelligence and security agencies as well as the United Nations. Refugee vetting typically takes one to two years and includes numerous rounds of security checks.

Trump also said that Germany is "crime-riddled right now" because of migration into Europe. But the data suggest that the refugees tend to be better-behaved than the typical German. The number of crimes has risen, but that includes crimes committed by Germans against refugees, and a transgression frequently committed by immigrants — riding mass transit without a ticket. There has been an uptick, but to pin it all on the newcomers rated Mostly False.

Refugees and development

At the intersection of refugees and development, the head of the International Rescue Committee David Milliband said, "The geography of poverty has changed fundamentally in the last 15 years," with more of it concentrated in fragile and conflict states."

That’s Mostly True, as this 2013 chart from the Brookings Institution shows.

The main driver for the shift is that poverty has dropped in more stable countries. As the economies of giants such as China and India grew, the ranks of those in extreme poverty fell. As analyst Gary Milante, at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told PolitiFact, "Poverty is not becoming concentrated in fragile states because there are more fragile states, Rather (it’s) that fragile states don’t make progress the way the rest of the world does."

U.S. ‘largest provider’ of refugee aid?

Lastly, President Barack Obama touted that "the United States (is) the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to displaced persons and refugees."

In raw dollars, that is quite accurate, but compared to the size of the national economy, other countries are putting in a bigger effort. On those terms, Luxembourg, Sweden and Turkey topped the ranking. And as for the number of refugees in each country, the top four are Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon and Iran -- all with close to or well over a million refugees. We rated Obama’s claim Mostly True.