How is false information used worldwide to target refugees?

How Is false ınformatıon used worldwIde to target refugees?

After the civil war which started in Syria in 2011, refugee crisis was moved to a different dimension. 7 years after the start of the civil war, under the temporary protection regulation, Turkey have accepted a vast number of refugees to its territory more than ever before in the country’s history. Now the number of Syrians living in Turkey is about 4 million.

On we have published a lot of analyzes regarding the Syrian problem which became apparent by the polarization in the society and we have shared verified fake news. However,  it is not just Turkey’s problem when it comes to the problem of fake news about the outsiders. Fact-checking organisations around the world are trying to deal with fake news concerning the refugees and immigrants.

In this research which analyzes the claims and false information about refugees/migrants in different countries, France being in the first place, we tried to determine the similarities and the differences by studying false news about refugees in different countries such as the US, England, Germany, Sweden, Italy.








It is a very possible thing to say that all over the world similar videos, photographs and images merged with xenophobia and anti-immigrant opinions can be used to help the hate speech accelerate and grow.

As part of this research, the false news which was brought up to target the surveyed refugees and immigrants is selected among the detections of verification organizations which signed International Fact-Checking Network Code of Principles. Especially the datas about false information that spread in Europe and the US were collected according to which claims they contain and how they spread.

Is the person who attacked the doctor a refugee or not?

If we make a list of the news that helped us to form this research, above comes a video that shows a claim which states a Syrian refugee who lives in Turkey attacked a doctor. In the related video, the claim that states the person who attacked the nurses and the doctor is Syrian is not true. Besides the video was not recorded in a hospital in Turkey, but in a hospital in Russia where it was published as news saying that a drunken man had attacked the staff in the hospital.

In other countries the video was shared with the claims saying that the man had been a refugee. While the video was being used in France to target the refugees during the election time, it was announced as fake news with the help of the verification platforms. The same video was also shared on the internet in a very accusatory way towards the refugees and the immigrants in Spain.


When it comes to the claims about refugees or immigrants, it is possible to say that the same content can be used to target different groups in different countries.

While a visual is used in false news to target Muslim immigrants in some countries, the same visual can be used to target Africans or Syrian asylum seekers (refugees) in a different country.

In this study, although the examined expressions used in the contents vary, it is possible to say that most of the expressions that are used in the fake news are “refugee / migrant”.

Are the immigrants flee to Europe or flee from Europe?

The photo above was used in Turkey with a more different context than the case has spread in European countries. This photo, which is shared with criticism towards the refugees, was shared allegedly saying that this photo shows Europeans who were trying to take refugee in Muslim countries during the First World War in Turkey. Also in Sweden the photo was spread with a similar assertion stating that the photo shows Europeans who were trying to take refugee in North Africa during the Second World War. In countries such as the US, Italy and France, the photograph was claimed to show refugees attempting to escape from Libya to Italy by ship.

This example is very important in terms of how the agenda related to refugees and foreign policy change from country to country, and how the wrong information fits into these areas. While social media users who shared this photo in Turkey gave voice to the claims about European countries not taking any necessary steps in terms of assistance to refugees, in the sharings of the European countries, it is emphasized that Europeans were affected the most by the wars ongoing in the Middle East and that their countries were invaded because of this.

In fact, the photo shows people trying to escape from Albania to Italy in 1991.

Liselotte Mas from France 24 Observers, a contributor to the study, emphasizes the importance of this research in terms of understanding the fake content that has become widespread against immigrants and refugees.

With this study, I got the chance to better understand how various anti-migrant groups use different images, rhetoric and mechanisms to tarnish migrants’ reputations. Some focus on the migrants’ religion, others on their allegedly violent behavior, others on how many of them there are. I think these different focuses say a lot about people’s fears, which vary in each society. It’s a fascinating topic, which we must keep exploring…
Liselotte Mas
France 24 Observers


False information targeting refugees often involves different accusations that use a language that is eliminative. These accusations are often divided into eight basic categories: criminal actions, state aid, economy, invasion, terrorism and religion.

False news towards the refugees/migrants who harass women in countries they entered are entitled as criminal actions. The claims regarding the terrorists disguised as refugees and entered especially in European countries where they did some acts to support the organizations like ISIS are entitled as terrorism.

News about the government which helps refugees and immigrants more than their own citizens and the claims about refugees who benefit from many services for free are entitled as state aid.

Under the title of religion, there are claims saying that the refugees have involved in acts of disrespect towards Christmas or attacks on the churches. Under the title of invasion, there are photographs, videos and explanations showing that many refugees and immigrants fled to other countries and took refugees there.

Among all these topics, it is possible to say that false news regarding the refugees is mostly related to criminal cases. Criminal cases are followed by claims that governments favor refugees and grant more privileges than citizens of the countries.

In the US while the claims about religion and criminal cases are frequent, in Turkey and France the claims takes a huge place under the title of state aid.

In France while the groups which are subject to these claims are called “refugees/immigrants”, in Turkey they are called “Syrians” and  in the US “Muslims”.

Seeing in which countries, when, and in what context these false claims are shared will be beneficial to prevent similar false claims from spreading. Seeing that the same claim is shared in other countries may also help those who share these news and content understand that this problem is not just specific to their own country.

Did the refugees refuse food because they were not halal?

Another headline that is highlighted in the content of false contents about refugees is the issue of religion. The video above was shared in France, USA, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria allegedly saying that the refugees did not accept the food allowance because the food was not halal or there was the sign of the cross on the boxes. The claim was served by Cihan Haber Ajansı (a news agency from Turkey) and published by Cumhuriyet (a Turkish newspaper) and T24.

However, the refugees refused the food allowance and protested not because the food had not been halal or there had been the sign of the cross on the boxes but because they had been waited for a very long time in the borderline and the promises which had been given were not fulfilled correctly.

Did the immigrants attack the police by using an ISIS flag?

The claim related to the immigrants who attacked the police in Germany by using an ISIS flag spread in France, the US, England, Macedonia, Sweden and Czech. It was claimed that the photo showed ISIS supporters who fought with the police had entered Germany as refugees.

However, the truth in the photo was revealed by the news sites and verification platforms that the Muslims living in Germany in 2012 protested against extreme right-wing groups. It can be said that the main motivation behind such fake news is to create the perception that the refugees and immigrants are terrorists and especially support Islamic organizations in Europe.

In the false contents targeting refugees, it is said that the cases happen especially in countries like Germany and Sweden. Germany is the country with the highest number of protection claims in Europe, so that is why the emphasizing of the false claims that originated in Germany about refugees makes their propaganda easier in terms of those who are trying to expand the reaction towards the refugees.

This chart shows the countries which mentioned that the events occure in the false news and contents.

Relation of refugees to criminal cases

In the samples collected during the research, the maximum content was collected under the title of criminal case. Many false images showing the photos of women and young girls who have been exposed to violence, raped or killed have been shared with the allegation that they are showing the women who are being tortured by the refugees.

It is also possible to see such examples in Turkey. In shared contents on social media, it was claimed that two Syrians raped and killed a woman in Bursa. The photo which is used in the shared contents belongs to a woman who was murdered by her ex-husband.The statement was also confirmed by Provincial Security Directorate of Bursa saying that there was not any incident regarding the claims. After had announced the statement as fake news, the social media account was determined by Police Department and a prosecution against the person who shared the content was started.

Among these claims, the most striking one is an image shared allegedly showing that 16 women were harassed or raped by refugees. The image was shared in England, Italy, Germany, France, Greece and Holland with a claim saying the incident happened in Germany or Sweden.

In fact the image was a collage made up by using different photographs of the women who were harassed in different countries such as England, The US, Australia and Ireland at different times. None of the people who harassed the women were not refugees. While a photo which was used did not even belong to a woman, another photo belonged to a makeup artist who wanted to draw reaction to the issue of women who are harassed.

It is possible to say that these false news have been put forward in order to create the sense that people, who have left their countries and migrated to another country because in their countries the refugee and migrant crises have deepened at some periods of time, create a security threat and cannot fit into the society and disturb individuals peace and harmony. In fact, such allegations about refugees can also lead to physical violence.

Translation: Tuğberk Nazik

This study was prepared by Gülin Çavuş, the editor of the, who was selected as the 2017 Fellow of the International Fact-Checking Network, in partnership with France 24 Observers, who worked together for two weeks. We would like to thank IFCN, Pauline Moullet of the Liberation Desintox team, Adrien Senecat of the Le Monde’ Les Decodeurs and France 24 Observers, especially Lisolette Mas for contributions to the work.