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Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu November 11, 2015

Huckabee: Most Syrian refugees are not Syrian, but want free sandwiches

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee questioned the motives and origins of "so-called ‘Syrian refugees’ " during the Nov. 10 undercard GOP debate.

While Huckabee, a former pastor, says he’s concerned about the plight of Christians in the region, he dismissed the idea of the United States accepting whoever — as he put it — wants free sandwiches and health care.  

"We have no idea who these people are. What we do know is only one out of five of the so-called ‘Syrian refugees’ who went into Europe were actually Syrian," Huckabee said. "Are we  going to open the door so ISIS people can come on in, and we’ll give them a place to stay and a good sandwich and medical benefits?"

We were curious about Huckabee’s claim that the majority of the refugees don’t come from Syria.

Huckabee’s spokesperson Hogan Gidley told us his source was the Eurostat, the European Union’s official statistical agency. He also forwarded us an article in the Daily Mail that said "four out of five migrants are NOT from Syria." (The article’s findings were repeated by some conservative American media outlets.)

We found that the Daily Mail’s and Huckabee’s statistic represents the situation in the three months before the Syrian migrants actually began arriving in Europe in bulk. Looking at the whole picture, asylum seekers from Syria represent half of all refugees.

According to the Daily Mail, the European Union "logged 213,000 arrivals in April, May and June but only 44,000 of them were fleeing the Syrian civil war." Those figures are lifted from Eurostat’s latest asylum quarterly report. But the Daily Mail’s use of data is flawed, and Huckabee’s extrapolation even more so.

First, the four out of five non-Syrian migrants are not falsely claiming to be Syrian as Huckabee’s phrasing —  "so-called Syrian refugees" — suggests. There is anecdotal evidence of people using fake or stolen passports, but the refugees in Eurostat’s tally hail from other countries that are experiencing or recovering from conflict, like Afghanistan, Albania, Iraq and Kosovo.

The Guardian explains why this distorts the refugee situation: "If you lump this group in with those who crossed the Mediterranean to claim asylum, the number of Syrians will naturally seem smaller. But this is to conflate two largely separate phenomena: the Mediterranean crisis and internal migration between different European states."

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(Huckabee’s point was that media reports conflated the the Syrian refugees and those who were not, Gidley told us.)

And last and most importantly, the 44,000 figure only represents a three-month period. This is "particularly problematic" as the largest spike in Syrian arrivals occurred after June, pointed out the Guardian. Here’s a chart with data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Syria page to that point:  

If we look at all of 2015, Syrian refugees account for 52 percent of nearly 800,000 Mediterranean sea arrivals, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Afghanistan and Iraq were the next two top countries of origin of refugees, accounting for 19 percent and 6 percent of refugees respectively.

Our ruling

Huckabee said, "Only one out of five of the so-called ‘Syrian refugees’ who went into Europe were actually Syrian."

While the claim isn’t pulled out of thin air, it’s flawed. The statistic represents the three months before the actual influx of Syrian refugees, and the four out of five non-Syrians are not purporting to be Syrian. Rather, they came from war-torn countries.

Overall, Syrian refugees account for half of all refugees arriving in Europe in 2015 so far.

We rate Huckabee’s claim Mostly False.  

Our Sources

Fox Business, GOP debate, Nov. 10, 2015

Phone and email interviews with Hogan Gidley, spokesperson for Mike Huckabee, Nov. 10-11, 2015

Washington Post, "Fact Check: Huckabee's false claim that only 1 in 5 refugees are Syrian," Nov. 10, 2015

Daily Mail, "Four out of five migrants are NOT from Syria," Sept. 18, 2015

Eurostat, "First time asylum applicants in the EU," Sept. 16, 2015

Eurostat, "Asylum quarterly report," Sept. 16, 2015

The Guardian, "Three problems with the Daily Mail’s story about Syrian refugees," Sept. 19, 2015

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, "Refugees/Migrants Emergency Response - Mediterranean," accessed Nov. 10, 2015

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, "Syria Regional Refugee Response," Nov. 3, 2015

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Huckabee: Most Syrian refugees are not Syrian, but want free sandwiches

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