Murphy's Law: Europe Invaded By Refugee Scams


February 17, 2016: The flood of Middle Eastern refugees that began to hit Europe in late 2015 and continuing into 2016 has made it politically acceptable to acknowledge and act on the long-known (to some soldiers and aid workers) facts about these refugees. First, the majority of the refugees are economic not political and have paid a lot of money to experienced smugglers who not only handle transportation but also provide coaching on how to deceive immigration officials trying to determine who is a political(and eligible to admission) and who is economic (and not eligible). While the media prefers to portray the average refugee as a Syrian and many of these being women and children, the reality is quite different. Only about 20 percent of the refugees are Syrian with most of the others being people seeking economic opportunities.

Smuggling gangs in the Middle East, Africa and Europe were quick to note the large amount of money to be made (over a billion dollars paid to smugglers in 2015) and the business has become competitive. Smugglers prefer not to get into a price war so they attempt to offer better assurances of a safe passage and the best quality coaching, sometimes accompanied by false documents, to get refugees (over 70 percent of them young men) past immigration screeners. Some smugglers even compile comparative stats on what benefits different countries offer to refugees and have that available as part of their services. This is why some countries (like Britain and Germany) are far more popular with refugees than the European countries the refugees already passed through.

Reacting to all this many destination countries are responding in several ways. One useful practice is cutting the benefits refugees can get and making the screening more effective. Some countries go further and let economic refugees know that if they leave quickly they will be flown home, sometimes with some cash for “travel expenses”. These two practices have gotten up to 20 percent of the refugees to return home.

Some countries discourage illegal migrants by taking all those caught in smuggler boats headed for Australia and puts them in isolated transit camps outside of Australia until their screening is complete. This has greatly reduced the number of refugees (almost all of them economic) trying to enter Australia illegally.

European police have also compiled data on scams refugees and shared that information and other data on illegal migrants. Some of these illegals will try several times and now that fingerprints and eye scans are easily taken and shared electronically it is near impossible for the repeat offenders to succeed.

All these screening and intelligence collecting efforts has also uncovered more details of refugee scams developed in the country the refugees came from and now being attempted in Europe. For example a 2014 British government investigation into Iraqi claims that British troops tortured and murdered Iraqis concluded that the claims were false in 57 cases and all these accusations were basically scams to obtain money via the British courts. The investigation took years and cost over $40 million.

The Iraq plaintiffs were suing in British courts for cash compensation for the alleged murders. The investigation could not find any evidence to back up the claims of the Iraqis, but did find ample evidence that the Iraqis were lying deliberately and frequently. All this is nothing new, although it was a bold move to take this scam to Britain.

Another bit of bad news for refugee scammers is that a growing number of the screeners have prior experience (often while in the military) with the mentality that produces these refugee cons. In 2015 screeners discovered that many Afghan refugees were presenting “night letters” from the Taliban threatening death if they did not help the Islamic terrorists or get out of the area. Such documents were quite common until 2011 when the Taliban stopped using them. But the refugees are presenting night letters, often hand written on Taliban or ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) stationary. Scans of these night letters exchanged by different screeners showed that many of these documents were apparently written by the same person. Some investigation back in Afghanistan found that these letters were for sale to Afghans seeking to head to the West and gain asylum. This sort of thing is neither new nor unique to Western screeners or lawyers.

Foreign troops in Afghanistan and Iraq regularly found that the locals could be incredibly corrupt, often to an astonishing degree. That’s because Iraqis, and especially Afghans, consider stealing from foreigners a laudable goal and this is a tradition that goes back thousands of years. One of the more common scams had to do with false claims for compensation because foreign troop actions caused deaths or injuries. Many of these scams succeeded again and again. Eventually the foreign troops caught on, often with the discreet help of friendly, and a lot more honest, locals. After that many details of attempted compensation fraud documented.

One of the best examples of this is the “dead goat scam” in which Afghan villagers lie about who was killed by a NATO bomb in order to obtain more compensation money, and to avoid Taliban retribution. This one was quite common and works like this. Often, when a smart bomb gets dropped in an isolated location (which describes most of Afghanistan), and there is any chance of civilian casualties the locals will make a fuss about seeking to find who was hurt or killed. The village elders insist that outsiders (as in U.S. military personnel investigating the damage) stay away during this trying time. Even the foreign soldiers and Afghan police are put off (after a quick search for Taliban bodies, documents, and equipment is completed). Being good Moslems, the villagers bury the dead before sunset of the same day. The next day, the elders will claim as many civilian dead, killed by smart bombs, as they think they can get away with. Sometimes additional graves get a dead goat or other animal, so the proper stench permeates the mound of earth. Digging up graves is also against Islamic law, so the elders know the foreign troops have to take their word for it. The elders do all this because the foreign troops, depending on nationality, will pay $1,000-$5,000 compensation per dead civilian. Not only is that a big payday, but the Taliban appreciate the bad publicity directed at the foreigners and usually show their appreciation by cutting this village or valley some slack in the future. The villages encourage this by offering the local Taliban a cut of the compensation money.

This scam worked because there aren't many public records in Afghanistan. The only ones who know exactly who lives in a village are the people there and the elders speak for everyone. Investigators had a hard time interrogating individuals because the elders, and everyone there, has a vested interest in not being found out. Sometimes the elders get greedy. For example, despite an intensive investigation into a 2008 bombing in eastern Afghanistan (outside Heart), the villagers got paid for over 90 dead. Investigators, piecing together what information they could, were certain that there were only 15 dead civilians (plus Taliban). But you can't touch the graves, and even questioning the veracity of the claims gets you howls of indignation.

In Iraq there were a lot more records, and most of the action was in densely populated areas. The investigations were prompt, and the Iraqis were not as bold and aggressive as the Afghans in keeping officials out. Iraq has a 5,000 year tradition of central government and officials who cannot be chased away. Afghanistan has none of that, at least out in the countryside. The local Afghan police are not enthusiastic about getting to the truth, since denying the villagers a payday will mean the police will be blamed and the villagers will be eager to even the score down the line. If the police play along they can expect a reward, from the village elders for their trouble.

The Iraqis, however, were more knowledgeable about how the Western media worked and would often succeed by pushing the right buttons with eager Western journalists and leftist politicians and lawyers back home. All these Westerners are more gullible, for one reason or another, and the military would sometimes just pay to quiet things down.

This is all because the Islamic media, and many news outlets in the West, like the idea that a lot more civilians are being killed. For the Westerners, "if it bleeds it leads", and there's a bonus if you want to get in some shots about how poorly the war is being run. Of course, if you interview the American troops involved, you get closer to the truth. But that's not a newsworthy story, and you don't really want to call the soldiers liars, so it's best to just stay away from them. Go for the story, not for the truth.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close