Anyone can become a refugee.
According to a United Nations Refugee Convention definition, refugee is anyone who cannot remain in their own country because of a well-founded fear of persecution based on their ethnicity, religion, political beliefs or other factors. Men, women, young and old, singles and families, all can, and do, move to escape that fear.
A record 1.3 million migrants applied for asylum in the 28 member states of the European Union, Norway and Switzerland in 2015 â€“ nearly double the previous high water mark of roughly 700,000 that was set in 1992 after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In fact, of all the asylum seekers who turned up in Europe over the past three decades, one in ten arrived just last year.
The new arrivals are not representative of the demographic profiles of their countries of origin: 72 per cent of last yearâ€™s 1.3 million are men, and 53 per cent of the total are young people, 18 to 34 years of age. If one were to draw a picture of a typical asylum applicant it would be a man in his 20s from a Muslim country (half of the arrivals come from just three countries: Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan).
There are two, not necessarily mutually exclusive, explanations for this demographic skewing: a large proportion of self-described refugees are really people who are simply searching for a better life in Europe (single young male is the typical profile of an economic migrant worldwide) and/or males are making the dangerous and arduous initial journey in order to become â€œanchor refugeesâ€ and subsequently bring their families across (from the original countries of refuge) in an easier way.
As any demographer, sociologist or criminologist knows, a gender imbalance in favour of men in any population is a recipe for trouble. Even if none of the asylum seekers were in any way traumatised â€“ or radicalised â€“ by their experiences, young men, or as they are also appropriately called â€œfighting-age menâ€, are more prone to violent, antisocial and criminal behaviour. This is arguably more so if they are unmoored from the constraints and mores of their own society and dumped into a new world, strangers in a strange land, which many of them find both fascinating and repellent at the same time.
Here is a modest proposal for European leaders worried about terrorism, crime and other social pathologies that many fear the asylum seekers bring with them: in the absence of closing the borders or in any other way restricting the migrant flow, which you are unlikely to do no matter how much your citizens demand it, put in place a quota system that heavily favours women and children, that is those most vulnerable, and currently most under-represented amongst the arriving cohort. You would not only be helping the neediest of the needy but also at the same time reducing social problems that many refugees bring.
My hope that Europe will listen to this advice? About zero. Partly because Europe historically tends to oscillate between the extremes of policy, largely disregarding the reasonable middle ground options, and partly because it would be considered to be too much out of the box.