Why are so many refugees young men?
Refugees: The Long March of the Young Men
80 percent of the refugees are male and under 30 years old. They take on great dangers to improve their status in the "wonderland Europe". There are opportunities, but the excess testosterone could also cause problems.
The statistics of asylum applications confirm the observation: 80 percent of the refugees streaming into Europe are young men between 17 and 30 years of age traveling alone. Why do so many men come and what consequences this could have is one of the most frequently asked questions. And it is justified.
Young men are more willing to take risks, they ignore possible dangers, but above all they are looking for status. So you are also ready to march through the desert, to dare a new beginning. It was very similar with those Europeans who once aspired to America. There was a surplus of men, which increased again after 1848, when the young men with no future in Europe tried the uprising. Because whoever was not executed among the revolutionaries emigrated. The history of the Wild West with its violence is also a history of the long-standing surplus of men.
Status and the illusion of prosperity. Millions have been on the move for years in search of a “new world”. "The pressure is high in a number of countries of origin," says the latest outlook from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In Nigeria, for example, 44 percent of people over the age of 15 state that they want to emigrate permanently. In Albania it is 39 percent, in Senegal 37 and in Syria 31 percent. Almost all of these countries have at least one EU country in the top three preferred destinations.
People dream of advancement and prosperity. The UNHCR High Commissioner for Refugees started video campaigns 15 years ago to warn that, for many Africans, emigration ends more in misery than in the success story. But obviously another constant catches up with us in turbulent times, namely that of social inequality. The much-cited gulf between North and South, which has been widened by completely misguided development cooperation, is one of the major threats to world peace on the agenda of the Davos World Economic Forum almost every year. We know the fault lines on the Mediterranean Sea, in Eastern Europe and also between the center and the periphery of many large cities. There are worlds between the promenades in the centers and the no-go areas in the suburbs, which are often connected by an underground train.
Now young men are moving north, full of energy and filled with the longing to become really successful, whether as a pizza chef, footballer or gang boss. The invitation from the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in mid-September that “there is still room for improvement” in terms of German reception capacity was announced via WhatsApp to the slums of Karachi. Here, too, young Pakistani soon made their way west by bus.
Winners? Whether these people are fleeing the war or simply from the hopelessness, many are united by the dream of a status that they will never achieve at home. Due to the lack of work, no living space, and thus little prospect of a wedding. In most traditional societies, however, a man only comes to a woman through marriage and can act out sexuality - or through rape, as the many well-known and even more the unknown dramas report.
Doctors have repeatedly confirmed an internal interaction between testosterone and status in numerous studies. Regardless of the point of view of testosterone - whether negative as the "hormone for aggression and dominance" or more positive as the "hormone of care and responsibility" - it is always about status. And last but not least, it is again women who choose men with a certain status or potentially successful life in order to know that their offspring are cared for.
These age-old role models, given by evolution, also persist in globalization. The family with the wide range of accepted forms is gaining in importance, because in times of difficult upheaval kinship offers social safety nets that the state cannot guarantee. In a world in which millions have to survive in flight and migration, family ties help who have often been prophesied of doom. So sometimes the boys move ahead in order to catch up with the clan.
House? Automobile? No problem! In the spring I looked after three Syrians in their mid-30s and a ten-year-old boy, all of whom had come to Austria via the Balkan route in February. They knew nothing about Austria when they arrived, but they were convinced that they would soon be able to buy a house and a car. They asked me to keep an eye out which house they could move into. Then at least they wanted to bring the rest of the family to catch up.
We had arguments in Arabic, because most of the time in the Syrian school system no foreign languages are taught. However, I tried in vain to bring them down to earth. When I asked why they hadn't moved to their siblings in Kuwait, where family connections and language as well as the boom there would offer them more opportunities, they nevertheless insisted on Austria, especially since they had come to appreciate the state's welfare and helpfulness here.
Secular Muslims in the minority. I kept my distance, especially since the boy's father insisted that the son should only play with Muslims. I didn't know the religion of the children I invited home, because I wasn't interested in it either. This, in turn, was not understood by the newcomers, who are fundamentally different from the Syrians I met during my study days in Damascus in 1988. The seculars are the minority today, religion is the linchpin of all thought and action.
When I first lived in Syria, the country numbered around nine million people. Today there are over 22 million whose living conditions, in addition to the political repression in the authoritarian police state, led to the uprisings in March 2011. In 2002 the report on human development, which the UN organization UNDP dedicated to the Arab states for the first time, caused a stir. Demographers warned, among other things, of an uprising among unemployed youth, because the population in the Arab states had doubled since 1985, with the result that the average age in Jordan is around 18, in most of the others between 20 and 25 years. Saudi Arabia currently has the highest birth rate in the world and faces massive youth unemployment.
The oil wealth puts a lid on the anger of a frustrated youth, who, thanks in part to the Saudi education system, approve of IS ideology. The birth curve is gradually sloping down in the states from North Africa to the Middle East. But the challenge is: to create work for all the young people. The World Bank names 100 million new jobs as a major challenge for the next 15 to 20 years. In Egypt alone, 500,000 jobs have to be created every year to provide young people with training. Head of State Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, often scolded by Western moralists, is doing one thing right: He is building one major construction site after the next to give boys physical work. With the wages, they may be able to afford a marriage.
It is a dilemma that it is impossible for hundreds of thousands of men to marry or to have a girlfriend due to rigid social morals to live their sexuality. It would be bold and dishonest to reduce much of what happens as war, insurrection and even emigration to a hormonal explosion, because ultimately the social and economic conditions are decisive. But this deeply human dimension must also have its justification in analysis. Many contemporaries even believe that they recognize the new skilled workers for senior care in the mass immigration. They seem to understand little about human nature.
The violence of young men. But freely based on Kohelet: There is nothing new under the sun. Going beyond the revolutions, the propensity of young men to use violence can be studied from a certain boredom and historical circumstances in much earlier times. Think of the Crusades: The Church saw that it would be more useful to redirect young men bursting with testosterone who were beating their heads in gang wars in Europe with their willingness to fight in the name of the cross against the “infidels”.
So the story continues. And the Middle East is damn close to us, because you can make a pilgrimage to it, as particularly pious people always did, and you can also flee from there on foot when war and religious fanatics destroy life. Angry young men have always made history, both as a crowd and as individuals.
To the author
Karin Kneissl (* 1965 in Vienna) studied law and Arabic in Vienna.
It was 1991/1992 Student at the ENA in Strasbourg, from 1990 to 1998 in the Austrian diplomatic service, afterwards teaching.
Numerous publications, including: “The spiral of violence. Why Orient and Occident cannot work together (2007, Ecowin); “My Middle East” (2014, Braumüller); “Testosterone Makes Politics” (2012, Braumüller).
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("Die Presse", print edition, October 4th, 2015)
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