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Five reasons why the majority of refugees reaching Europe are men

Flickr, Mustafa Khayat

I come from a very, very tiny village in the Southern part of Sweden. About 14% of the population around my village voted for a party with right wing and xenophobic roots last time there was an election, to mine and many people’s dismay.

Because of this right wing political movement growing in Scandinavian countries, I’m starting to see a lot of the same old ignorant and racist conspiracy theories seep out on social media. The arguments and complaints are usually the same, but one question that has come about lately is; “Why is it just men that come to Europe? They don’t care about their women and children and they just leave them behind in warzones to survive themselves!”  

Nope, nope, nope. That theory is simply not true, and I’m about to give you 5 arguments and explanations to why it isn’t:

1.       According to the UNCHR, women and girls comprise about half of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population. That’s that. There’s not more men that flee their countries than women, which makes sense since about half of the population is men and the other half women. Simple as that. However, the majority of refugees reaching Europe is at the moment a majority of men, according to the UNCHR, and my upcoming arguments will explain why;

syrianwire.jpgImage: Flickr, Freedom House

2.       Young men can handle a dangerous and risky trip like the one refugees are taking better than women and children.  Women and children are often left in the refugee camps in neighboring countries while the men decide to leave the camps in order to take the risky and often deadly trip to Europe by boat. According to statistics, the split between men and women in refugee camps is almost fifty/fifty. The number of Syrian refugees is currently approaching 4 million, with UN data showing women and children make up over three-quarters of that total. In Lebanon, the majority in the refugee’s camps are actually women and children. The families then stay behind and wait until the men have made the trip to Europe, applied for asylum and then are able to have the rest of their families follow in a much safer way.

syrianboy.jpgImage: Flickr, Photo Unit

3.       Another reason is that a lot of women and children die on their way to Europe. The majority of those who have died in the Mediterranean waves are women and children. Men are usually physically stronger and will live longer in the water than women and children. This theory can be supported by the gender division of the survivors during the disaster in Estonia. A study of 18 catastrophes over the past 300 years was carried out by Swedish researchers Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixon and shows that captains and their crew (men) are 18.7 per cent more likely to survive a shipwreck than their passengers. The research also showed that out of 15,000 people who died in 18 sinkings, only 17.8 per cent of woman survived compared with 34.5 per cent of men.

syriangroup.pngImage: Flickr, Oxfam International

4.       Families that travel together in a big group have a harder time with the logistics, simply because it’s hard to look after multiple people. Often the groups get stuck in countries on the way, don’t have enough energy for everyone to continue or decide to stay in the first place where they feel safe. It’s also easier for men travelling by themselves to get past border patrol or military than it would be if a whole family was travelling along.

syriancamp.jpgImage: Flickr, Freedom House

5.       Last but not least: No one would send their daughter to do this trip by herself. No one. The risks for a girl travelling by herself on a dangerous route such as from Syria to Europe, are too high. Along the coastline, criminal gangs are reportedly charging Syrian families tens of thousands of dollars to transport them to Greece. According to the UN, women and children are at an extremely high risk of sexual abuse, violence and exploitation on the route from a war zone to a safe zone. Much more so than men. Sending your young daughter instead of son is basically guaranteeing exploitation and abuse. No sane parent would do that.

syrianpeace.pngImage: Flickr, IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation

This is not about saving men and leaving women behind, which is what many right-wing politicians and supporters are trying to portray. This is about trying to get everyone to survival without suffering. Images of children and mothers and phrases such as “among the dead were X many children and women” are being portrayed in media on a daily basis and somehow it is as if people have forgotten that men, too, have the right to survive. We can’t dehumanize men just because they’re men.  They're also human. They’re also terrified of death.

People need to stop letting racist and xenophobic social media try to control the narrative. The world needs to realize that everyone is equal and everyone deserves dignity, a right to life and humane treatment. No one should be left behind; and, trust me when I say this, I’m quite sure that most Syrian fathers and brothers agree with me on this. The hardest walk to take is the one you have to take alone.  

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