Fact Check: Is Rep. Zinke Right about Syrian Refugees?

Montana U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke (photo courtesy of the Ryan Zinke Exploratory Committee).

Montana U.S. Rep. and retired Navy SEAL, Ryan Zinke, came under fire this week by Democrats and members of the news media for claiming that “most” Syrian refugees are military aged males.

“In the case of the Syrian refugees, most of them are male. Most of them are of military age, and yes, it is a significant security issue in that a background check is only as good as the authorities have information on them,” Zinke said in a statement on Monday in which he announced opposition to the resettlement of Syrian refugees within the US until better screening procedures are in place.

At least two reporters were quick to question Zinke’s facts—contending that the vast majority of refugees were women and children with only 22.1% of refugees counting as “military-aged males.”

Critics cite official Syrian refugee data from the United Nations. However, this metric only measures refugees within the other Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, Turkey, or Lebanon, and not the large exodus of refugees traveling into western countries which have flooded television screens over the last several weeks.

A similar question was also asked of Zinke by George Stephanopoulos of ABC News during a Good Morning America interview. Zinke responded stating that hard facts (which were confirmed by Media Trackers) suggest that “over 60% of refugees were in fact military-aged males.”

Zinke was also citing UN data, but his figures came from the demographics of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. There have been more than 800,000 refugees who have crossed the Mediterranean in 2015. As of publication, more than 60 percent of those refugees are male according to the UN. It should be noted that those are crossings of all refugees and not just Syrians, though Syrians are estimated to account for just over half of the crossings.

On Monday, Rep. Zinke, along with Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), introduced legislation titled the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act. According to an official release from Zinke’s office the “American SAFE Act bolsters the refugee screening process to include the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.”

Zinke contends that the vetting process for the refugee program is fatally flawed and pointed out in an interview on Good Morning America with George Stephanopoulos this week that there are currently “over 100 U.S. passport holders fighting alongside ISIS.”

“This is not from me this is from the FBI” stated Zinke. “The director of the FBI says there is no way we can determine under the current vetting process, whether they’re terrorists or sympathizers. That’s the facts. The fact is that our border is unsecure and people come across our border every day. The fact is that ISIS is in 50 states. That means ISIS is here in every state. The fact of the matter is thousands of refugees are coming across that we don’t know who they are.”

Zinke also emphasized that automatically considering women as a non-threat was wrong-headed. Zinke’s point regarding female threats was further emphasized when news emerged from Paris, France Tuesday that a female suicide bomber had detonated herself during a police raid in response to last week’s terrorist attacks which killed over 130 people

Joining in on the chorus, U.S. President Barack Obama mocked Republicans like Zinke this week for being “scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States.” However, public data on Muslim-nation origin refugees traveling to Europe from the International Organization for Migration, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, clearly shows the President’s assertion to be wrong.

In response to the criticism, a representative from Congressman Zinke’s office told Media Trackers that “Ryan Zinke knows exactly the threat the refugee crisis poses, not only because ISIS has proven they will exploit the chaos, but also because he was on the front lines in Iraq destroying similar threats in order to keep Americans safe. Sarcastic tweets about being ‘afraid of children’ is a clear example of somebody not understanding the subject. Ryan Zinke on the other hand intimately understands the threat of suicide bombers, lone wolf attacks, and insurgents, and is prepared to act accordingly to prevent such attacks from hitting the homeland.”

News broke early Wednesday revealed that over 70 people inside the United States, including individuals part of the current refugee resettlement program, have been arrested in ISIS related plots.

Editor’s Note: Corrected a spelling error in the 6th paragraph on 11/19/2015 at 10:25 AM.