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How “The Syrian Campaign” Faked Its “70% Fleeing Assad” Refugee Poll

by Tim Anderson at Global Research

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As one might expect, during a war, misunderstandings are often driven by interested parties. In the case of Syrian refugees in Europe a US based organisation called ‘The Syria Campaign’ has helped drive some of these, including a claim that most of the refugees are ‘Fleeing Assad’. ‘The Syria Campaign’ is a Wall Street Public Relations creation and one of several interlocked, US-based groups (Avaaz, Purpose, the White Helmets) which have campaigned for a Libyan-style ‘no fly zone’ in Syria. That is, they work for NATO intervention on the side of the jihadist groups (see Sterling 2015). In any case, a careful look at the evidence allows us to see through this ‘refugees fleeing Assad’ scam.

The Syria Campaign (2015) commissioned a poll in Germany which was apparently carried out by German academic Heiko Giebler. In it, 889 Syrian refugees were said to have been interviewed in Berlin, Hanover, Bremen, Leipzig and Eisenhüttenstadt. Candidates ‘were approached on entering or leaving registration centers’. However the survey does not specify how sampling choices were made (TSC 2015). This is important because sampling error can easily undermine the representative nature of a poll. Indeed if there is no sampling error, as in this case, there is no way to assert to what extent the survey represents a broader population. The results are then almost useless, except as anecdotes.

The poll cover note, headline and graphics highlight a claim that ‘70% of refugees are fleeing Assad’. To begin with, this is a false characterisation of the actual survey (TSC 2015). It had no question at all about fleeing Assad, nor anyone else. It did have questions on whom the respondents blamed for the violence and of whom they were afraid. Of the 30 survey questions the three relevant ones seem to be number 9 (‘Who was responsible for the fighting?), number 14 (‘Who did you fear getting arrested or kidnapped by?’), and number 18 (‘What was the main reason for you to leave Syria?’). Observe that question 18 does not specify any particular threat while in questions 9 and 14 (as is made clear in the survey report) there were multiple options, so results in both cases tally to much more than 100.

tsc-fake-1

The Syrian Campaign’s cover note, headline and graphics have drawn, very loosely, on some combination of those three questions. In response to question 18 69% said that ‘the main reason’ for leaving Syria was an ‘imminent threat’ to life, but without an identified source of that threat. In Question 9, 70% identified ‘Syrian Army and allied groups’ as ‘responsible for the fighting’. However as this was a multiple option question we also see that 82% have identified other armed groups (ISIS, al Nusra, FSA, YPG, other rebels). If we remove the Kurdish YPG, which has generally fought in coordination with the Syrian Army, the total is 74% anti-government armed groups. Question 14 shares the ‘multiple option’ structure of Question 9. Here 77% said they feared ‘getting arrested or kidnapped by’ the ‘Syrian Army and its allied groups’. However the combined total of anti-government groups is 82% and, if we add the YPG, 90%. The answers to both questions suggest these respondents feared the anti-government armed groups slightly more than they feared the Syrian Army. Most likely, many feared getting caught in the crossfire.

So, even before we examine the representative validity of the poll, there is no basis in any of those three questions – or anywhere else in the poll – for saying that ‘70% of refugees are fleeing Assad’. To the contrary, the poll shows that more are fleeing anti-government, jihadist armed groups. This contradicts The Syrian Campaign’s quite dishonest headline, underlined by its lead in: ‘the results are crystal clear’. A Deutsche Welle report faithfully noted: ‘Survey leaves no doubt: Syrians are fleeing Assad’ (Fuchs 2015). Apparently this reporter did not read the survey.

Further internal analysis, combined with UNHCR (2016) data for 2015 on the wider Syrian refugee population, shows The Syrian Campaign’s survey to have been quite unrepresentative, and therefore no basis for claims about the wider Syrian refugee population. As Table 2 shows, the respondents in Germany had massive over-representation from men and young men. Put together we see a 1.76 over-representation of males and a 2.25 over-representation of people between 15 and 55 (UNHCR: 18-59; TSC: 15-55). Women and children barely exist in the TSC poll. The poll also shows that 51% came alone to Europe, 61% have no children and that 68% (0.78 x 0.88) are young men between 15 and 35 years old.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-08-44-10

Other data within the poll indicates that 74% were from areas held by anti-government armed groups, as they reported government shelling. There is no credible evidence that suggests the Syrian Army shells areas which do not contain armed anti-government groups. That is reinforced by Question 1 on area of origin, which shows hardly any respondents (just 19 people) from Tartus, Latakia and Sweida, areas which in 2015 had a combined population (swollen, from internal refugees) of at least 5 million. Respondents from Damascus (170 or 19%) are also seriously under-represented. Damascus in 2015 held over 7 million, or one-third of Syria’s population. There were many displaced people in all these areas, controlled by the Government.

On the other side, we can see an over-representation of respondents from Hasakah (164 or 19%). There are certainly a lot of refugees from the Hasakah district, in large part due to the presence of ISIS and Turkish-Kurd clashes; but its population of half a million, less than 10% that of Damascus, is represented equally in survey respondents to that of the capital. In other words, the TSC survey has a very large over-representation of men and young men, many from anti-government held areas. Quite a number of them are likely to be ex-fighters.

Putting this all together we can conclude that the poll commissioned by The Syrian Campaign (2015) did not show anything like ‘70% fleeing Assad’. To the contrary, results of the poll (TSC (2015) suggested that slightly more amongst that cohort were fearful of anti-government armed groups. On top of that, that poll was quite unrepresentative of the Syrian refugee population, as it contained a very large group of young men from anti-government (i.e. jihadist) held areas, some of them likely former fighters, and many of whom had indeed come under Syrian Army fire. Reasons for corruption of the data most likely include a combination of biased selection in Germany (selection was made by the associates of a partisan group) and a possible over-representation of young men and former fighters amongst the actual cohort of refugees arriving in those German cities. The absence of an explicit sampling process and a stated sampling error simply underlines the unprofessional nature of this survey.

Little of this seems to have registered on the western media. Like the Deutsche Welle reporter, most seem not to have even read the survey. One version or another of the fake headline ‘70% of refugees fleeing Assad’ provided by the Wall Street PR group was copied by much of the corporate media, including The Times (UK); The Huffington Post; the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek.

Sources:
(1)Fuchs, Richard (2015) ‘Survey leaves no doubt: Syrians are fleeing Assad’, Deutsche Welle, 11 October, online
(2)Sterling, Rick (2015) ‘Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators’, Dissident Voice, 9 April, online
(3)The Syria Campaign (2015) ‘Care about refugees? Listen to them’, 9 October, online
(4)TSC (2015) ‘Listen To Refugees – First Survey of Syrian Refugees in Europe’, survey results spreadsheet, The Syrian Campaign, online
(5)UNHCR (2016) ‘Syria Regional Refugee Response’, last updated 4 September, online

23 Comments

  1. Sergey Tokarev says

    You don’t need to be a rocket scientist and do an extensive research to know that Syrians were overwhelmingly fleeing jihadi invasion. Compare the numbers of male refugees of fighting age one week before Russians got involved and after that. A shart drop in numbers of male refugees shows that Syrians got a hope with deployment of Russian forces, hope that Syrian cause will prevail.

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  2. paulcarline says

    Does anyone know of evidence that any of the refugees (Syrian or other) were paid to leave? I have read suggestions that the flood of refugees into Europe was financed by Soros (perhaps others too) specifically in order to destabilise Europe, and especially Germany. I have always distrusted Merkel. It’s interesting that while Putin’s early career in the KGB is made much of by Putinophobes, Merkel’s work in the East German Stasi receives little attention. It is known that she attended the Bilderberg conference in 2005 and was invited again this year. While the accusation that Putin wishes to restore the old Soviet Union is pure fiction, the idea that Merkel was chosen to ensure that the Atlanticists’ 100-year old aim of preventing an alliance between Germany and Russia was protected is far less speculative.

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  3. The poll cover note, headline and graphics highlight a claim that ‘70% of refugees are fleeing Assad’. To begin with, this is a false characterisation of the actual survey (TSC 2015). It had no question at all about fleeing Assad, nor anyone else.

    People should have a look at the poll results and make up their own mind.

    Question seven asked who was shelling your neighborhood in Syria. 74 percent of those polled answered that it was the Syrian army and its allied groups (Hizbollah, et al).

    It amazes me at this point that you people can try to spin the results to make it look like Assad is not the country’s Franco, even using a poll that totally runs counter to Tim Anderson’s Baathist propaganda.

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1WYn4N7STdP2eW3EYdX86Gsb6lxE4VrcNvZ4aEczsFwI/edit#gid=833561282

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    • Louisproyect, it’s not so much about comparing Assad to Franco or Bush or Blair. The propaganda war being waged is about whether he is a homicidal maniac who woke up one day in 2011 and ordered the mass extermination of the civilian population of his own country. British government investigations have revealed enough about the motives for wars waged on the Middle East by western colonial powers. Western destruction of Libya (Yougoslavia) was also propagandisticly justified as an attempted defence of the civilian population. Notice the silence around ‘our’ dictators in Saudi Arabia bombing civilians in Yemen?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I was a so called ‘refugee’ from communism. When I along with loads of other people from Eastern Europe arrived in Austria or Germany in the late 70s/early 80s (with a passport and a tourist visa) we all knew that to be granted (economic) asylum we had to go through the song and dance of blaming communism. We were all interviewed and voile, we were all apparently persecuted. Later on in private conversation we’d lough about it. The Syrians know very well what to say not to go back to their broken country. They know that Assad is more hated in the western centres of power than cocktail of acronyms representing ‘terrorists’.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There are a number of other factors here too:

    From the start these ‘rebels’ pretended to be Syrian army when clearing out towns. Back in 2011 Martin Chulov of the Guardian said refugees told them of fully bearded men in black who didn’t speak Arabic accompanying the Syrian army. He claimed they must be Iranian special forces, which is obviously farcical. They had to be jihadists, likely Chechens and such.

    In Turkey the very same groups who run the ‘rebel’ narrative and fill the media with anti-Assad stories run the facilities to the refugees.

    Anyone entering a country on asylum will more likely say whatever helps their claim. Especially if it’s a country that is politically opposed to the Syrian government.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Back in 2011 Martin Chulov of the Guardian said refugees told them of fully bearded men in black who didn’t speak Arabic accompanying the Syrian army. He claimed they must be Iranian special forces, which is obviously farcical.”

      Don’t you people care about accuracy? Where does this susceptibility to make things come from? Especially in a website that supposedly corrects mainstream reporting. Chulov actually wrote:

      “There was a desertion,” said Abu Majid. “I saw it with my own eyes. There were a large number of strangers in town on Saturday. I don’t know who they were, they were big men, many of them bearded and most in civilian clothes. They started shooting at the people and some of the security forces tried to join us. They were killed – there were many of them killed.”

      Nothing about not speaking Arabic or claiming that they were Iranian special forces. But what the heck, who cares if the goal is to make Assad look good.

      NOTE BY ADMN: LouisProyect is incorrect. The video posted by Sav below is of Chulov saying exactly what Sav claims he said.

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      • The Guardian removed the video from their youtube account and any reference from their website also doesn’t exist.

        Here is a copy of it being used by someone else. I’ve followed events from 2011 so I know what I’m talking about. The only person here trying to spread BS is you my friend.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you for bringing this to my intention. I think the idea that Chechen jihadists were involved in a “false flag” operation to put the blame on Iran is par for the course here.

          NOTE FROM ADMIN: You have already been required to acknowledge that false flags do occur so your comment above is merely trolling. If you dispute the claim of the other commenter then source it with evidence not empty sarcasm. Do NOT reply to this note./em>

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          • Not, “Ooops, I guess I was wrong in my assumptions, and you, Sav, were making a factually correct statement,” but rather, ” . . . that . . . is par for the course here.” And I am to take you seriously? Seriously?

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          • I’ve not claimed they were pretending to be Iranian special ops. Only that Chulov chose to think that because of his bias.

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            • I still don’t get how you came to the conclusion that “They had to be jihadists, likely Chechens and such.” Because they had beards? Because they weren’t speaking Arabic? Let me repeat the point I keep making. If you are going to hold the Guardian’s feet to the fire, at least try to strive for a certain fact-based consistency yourself. You stated: “From the start these ‘rebels’ pretended to be Syrian army when clearing out towns.” What are you saying? What is your source for that? SANA? RT.com? Moon of Alabama? Global Research? Which reporter wrote that the FSA wore Syrian army uniforms and pretended to be Baathist soldiers to drive people sympathetic to their cause so that they would hate the Syrian government even more? What if someone recognized them as people who were supposedly on their side? I am told by the admin to stop referring to false flags but when it is this far-fetched, I have to demur.

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              • Who do you think they likely were – hipsters from Aldgate?

                Give up the BS. You tried and failed. This is a comment. I don’t write for off-Guardian. Their content is up there ^.

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              • “. . . when it is this far-fetched, I have to demur.”

                A) imagine that you are a rebel faction. You want to turn the masses against the national army you are trying to defeat. Hey, here’s an idea: lets don the uniforms of the national army and mistreat, intimidate and otherwise terrorize the locals. How else can anyone tell the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them?’ Unless they know ‘us’ personally, eh. Yup, it really stretches my imagination to dream this up.

                B) Here is something that is really beyond imagination:

                Syrian media warn of staged videos, rebels dressed as soldiers

                http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/07/syrian-media-warn-of-staged-videos-rebels-dressed-as-soldiers.html

                C) Even way more beyond imagination than the last suggested impossible transgression against the limits of the imaginable:

                “Then two British soldiers, reportedly dressed as Arabs and driving a civilian car, attracted the notice of police at a checkpoint.

                “According to the Iraqi authorities they refused to stop, instead allegedly firing at the officers, killing one and wounding another. This has not been confirmed by the Ministry of Defence.”

                http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4263648.stm

                D) And this in the realm of utter fiction that was the second world war:

                German commando Otto Skorzeny led his troops wearing American uniforms to infiltrate American lines in Operation Greif during the Battle of the Bulge. Skorzeny later reported that he was told by experts in military law that wearing American uniforms was a defensible ruse de guerre, provided his troops took off their American uniforms, and put on German uniforms, prior to firing their weapons. Skorzeny was acquitted by a United States military court in Dachau in 1947, after his defense counsel argued that the “wearing of American uniforms was a legitimate ruse of war for espionage and sabotage” as described by The New York Times.[6]

                Imagine yourself able to google the details of that last unimaginable bit, Proyect, and do it.

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                  • Whether it settles “it” or not is not the issue that you brought up. What you brought up was the limit of your imagination as somehow or other being the presumptive limit of what others may be capable. I am merely underscoring your glaring and obvious lack of imagination together with its complete and utter irrelevance to reality. Perhaps that also goes a long way toward explaining your studied imperviousness to ‘facts.’

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  6. The average respondent in the TSC survey of 889 Syrian refugees would make a close fit for an economic migrant or potential jihadi recruit. The huge majority of these surveyed refugees are men of military draft age from areas in eastern Syria close to northern Iraq where ISIS has been the de facto government for a number of years. People in those small European countries (Hungary, Slovakia for example) fearful of taking in large unrestricted numbers of Syrian refugees, in the belief that some refugees might actually be ISIS or Jabhat al Nusra sleeper cells, would be alarmed at the general profile of the refugees sampled by the survey.

    It would be most unusual if out of all 889 respondents in the poll, none of them had fought with ISIS or any other extreme jihadi group, whether out of volition or coercion, and /or not have been influenced by jihadi ideology. Some if not many of the 889 who answered then would have reason to say they feared being attacked or arrested by the SAA – because they themselves might have carried out torture, murder and other atrocities. So their replies would have skewed the polling results even more against the Syrian government.

    But it is significant that these respondents are even more fearful of the groups they might have fought with and against as possible jihadis. This might say something about how much psychological damage is being done to people in those parts of Syria and Iraq where ISIS and Jabhat al Nusra dominate. This is all the more reason then to condemn Western interference in this part of the world.

    This comment is not to be taken to suggest that all the 889 people surveyed had been involved in fighting the Syrian government as jihadis.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. And that is precisely why I don’t trust the Western MSM with a particular mistrust of the American version of journalism. I haven’t watched the talking heads for over 10 years now and I now rely on news blogs in the alternative media with a healthy distrust of even them. I review many news websites to see if they correlate or have different takes on any question, then I make up my own mind.

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  8. At what point do people get so tired of being lied to that they en masse stop listening and start voting based on our morals?

    2017 is full of elections ?

    Forget the US dog & pony show as 50% of brainwashed Americans still think Clinton is honest & healthy !!

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  9. Torture numbers, and they’ll confess to anything. ~Gregg Easterbrook
    Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off. ~Paul Brodeur, Outrageous Misconduct
    He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts — for support rather than for illumination. ~Andrew Lang
    The plural of anecdote is data. ~Raymond Wolfinger

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