Europe's Coming Harvest of Bare Branches

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In spring 2002, two scholars, Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer, published their research into the potential consequences of sex selection practices. They noted the enforcement of a “one-child” policy has inadvertently permitted the preference for male heirs to result in unhealthy male-to-female ratios. In practice, this societal preference for males will produce a sizable subclass of young males unable to find a wife and start a family; in China, these men are currently known as guang gun-er or "bare branches." Hudson and den Boer then linked in the work of sociologists demonstrating that young adult men with no stake in society are much more prone to attempt to improve their situation through violent and criminal behavior in a strategy of coalitional aggression with other bare branches. Furthermore, they ominously note the responses available to governments can be problematic -- social re-engineering is too costly while repression can unleash instability; accordingly, some countries may seek an outlet by harnessing their aggressive impulses for nationalist ventures abroad. Hudson and den Boer’s research focused on Asian countries, but the findings should induce caution on the part of humanitarian-minded Western decision-makers as they consider accepting refugees from the Middle East. Approximately seven million persons, the population of Serbia, have fled Syria and Iraq over the past four years and the flow has accelerated in the past year. Even worse, the typical Middle Eastern refugee is young, male, and unemployable -- just like Hudson and den Boer’s bare branches. And just like their European counterparts.

The Young Men of Syria

In December 2014, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported the number of people forcibly displaced by conflict or persecution reached 51.2 million -- the highest total recorded since 1945. According to UNHCR figures, more than half of all refugees worldwide came from just three countries: Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria. In Iraq and Syria alone, an estimated 13.6 million people have been displaced by the conflicts.

The countries bordering Syria have borne the brunt of the exodus. Turkey has been the number one destination and has received approximately 1.9 million persons; according to UN figures, the majority are less than seventeen years old. Lebanon has taken in 1.1 million refugees, which constitutes almost 25 percent of the country’s 4.4 million native population. Jordan has received approximately 629,000 Syrian refugees, which is in addition to the large number of persons already having arrived from Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan. (Jordan has long been afflicted by refugee flows; nearly half of its population is of Palestinian origin. Accordingly, Jordan has not been exempt from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, experiencing its own civil war in 1970 due to this presence.) Cruelly, Iraq, also afflicted by ISIS and sectarian strife, is the refuge for approximately 249,000 fleeing Syrians. Lastly, Egypt has accepted approximately 132,000 Syrian refugees.

(The inexplicable inexcusable outliers in this disaster? The wealthy Persian Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, which have taken zero refugees; alone among these states, the United Arab Emirates has taken in approximately 250,000.)

An estimated 442,000 (UNHCR, 09/17/15) have taken to overland and seaborne routes in their bid to enter Europe. More specifically, northern and western Europe. Some Syrian refugees are pausing in Serbia and Bulgaria, but most are bypassing nearly bankrupt Greece and the other impoverished Balkan countries -- they yearn for and are heading for the charity and comforts uniquely found in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, and Sweden. Indeed, over 100,000 refugees have submitted applications for asylum in Germany (UNHCR, 09/17/15).

The key difference between the refugee crisis in the Middle East and the one unfolding in Europe -- the divergence in gender. According to the UNHCR, the male-female breakdown of refugees in the Middle East is nearly 50-50; in Europe, the male-female ratio is 69 to 13. (The remaining 18 percent is identified as children).

Acknowledged -- an additional 305,000 males will not upend a political entity of 503 million inhabitants.

However, 358,000 males from Muslim-majority countries breaching hastily erected border controls to settle among European populations coping with economic dislocation and an underachieving millennial generation is a recipe for long-term disaster.

The Young Men of Europe

In Europe, historically, women have been more affected by unemployment than men. In 2000, the unemployment rate for women in the EU-28 was around 10 %, while the rate for men was below 8 %. However, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, when rates were at their lowest levels of 6.3% and 7.4%, respectively, the male and female unemployment rates converged.

In 2014, unemployment rates stood at 11.5% for men and at 11.8% for women; in 15 of 28 member states, male unemployment rates were higher than the corresponding rates for women. The gap between male and female unemployment rates varied from -6.5 percentage points in Greece to +3.5 percentage points in Ireland.

Moreover, European youth unemployment rates are generally much higher, even double or more than double, than unemployment rates for all ages. However, the 2008 economic crisis also severely hit the young. Unemployment peaked in 2013 at 23.8% before receding modestly to 21.4% at the end of 2014. Youth unemployment rates were particularly high in a number of countries -- Spain (53.2%), Greece (52.4%), Croatia (45.5%), Italy (42.7%), Cyprus (35.9%) and Portugal (34.7%). (Germany (7.7%) was the only European Union country with a youth unemployment rate below 10%.)

In 2013, the corresponding male unemployment rates were: Spain (26.0%), Greece (24.3%), Croatia (18.4%), Italy (11.6%), Cyprus (16.5%), and Portugal (16.4%).

Unemployed, young European men have had to retreat back into their parents’ homes.

According to the Eurofound (2014), Social Situation of Young People in Europe survey, the proportion of young men living at home with their parents increased. In 2007, 65 percent of 18-24 year-old men and 31 percent of 25-29 year-old men lived at home; in 2011, the percentages had increased to 67 and 34 percent, respectively.

The corresponding cascade of key findings were less encouraging:
  1. Unemployed and inactive young people give a comparatively low rating for their subjective well-being.
  2. Deprivation has increased for young people of all social backgrounds since 2007 in nearly all EU countries, especially for those who are living in extended families with their parents and their own children.
  3. Unemployed and inactive young people are more likely than others to feel socially excluded, to feel lonely, to face a lack of social support, and to have lower levels of mental well-being.
  4. Young people are less likely to trust institutions in 2014 than they did in 2007 – with the exception of the police, whom they trust as much as before.
Lastly, and perhaps most fatefully, young people are more likely than older people to perceive tensions between ethnic or religious groups.
The above figures represent 2011, before the daily footage of migrants surging past overwhelmed border officials.

“the only guarantee against immigrants and popular discontent”

In 1995, Germany was home to approximately 100,000 Vietnamese. In the 1970s, the combination of East German solidarity with its communist brethren in Vietnam and West German mercy on boat people fleeing that same dictatorship resulted in the sizable diaspora. A second smaller wave arrived from Eastern European countries after communism collapsed.

Nonetheless, Germany, newly unified and coping with far-right xenophobia and violence, reversed course and rolled up the welcome mat. In addition to tightening immigration laws, Germany concluded an agreement that year with Vietnam to repatriate approximately 40,000 individuals in the country illegally. In return, Vietnam would receive an approximately $130 million aid package.

According to then Interior Minister Manfred Kanther, the step constituted "the only guarantee against the abuses of uncontrollable movements of immigrants in the future and against popular discontent turning to radical political forces."

In October 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel forthrightly declared the attempts to build a multicultural society had "utterly failed."

Where is this Merkel now?

In the present day, Merkel has inexplicably been at the forefront of a slow and disorganized European Union response, one all too discouragingly reminiscent of its reaction to the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

At the beginning of September, the European Union leadership’s initial response entailed readiness to accept 160,000 refugees and distribute them among the membership. The consequence has been headlines on a daily basis announcing the successive imposition of border controls by member states. Hungary, once alone in attempting to thwart refugees with barriers along its border, has now been joined by Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, and Slovakia.

According to recent reporting, Germany is (again) reversing course; in a 128-page draft law produced by the German Interior Ministry and obtained by The Washington Post, the government would speed asylum procedures, cut cash benefits, hasten deportations, and punish those with false claims and phony paperwork.

As noted previously, public disenchantment with incumbent political parties and institutions is cresting in country after country, According to one analysis, the proportion of the public that trusted the European Union, as high as 52 percent in 2007, has declined to one-third.

Accepting young Muslim male refugees only puts them on a collision course with similarly alienated young European men.

Young Syrian men may be disinclined to stay and fight for the country’s liberation and young European men may have been “thoroughly debellicized” by decades of Western modernity and prosperity, but as Hudson and den Boer’s research indicates, and the tragedies of Anders Breveik and Charlie Hebdo have illustrated, alienated men are fertile ground for radicalization and the readiness to pick up a weapon.

Europe will shudder when would-be Breveiks face off against Charlie Hebdo copycats in the streets of their pristine capitals.


Coping with the crisis, the town of Dachau, near Munich, has resorted to housing migrants in the former herb garden, just across the road from the main grounds of the former concentration camp.

In the first half of 2015, Germany’s interior ministry has counted 202 attacks on refugee shelters, as many as in all of 2014, and the German media has reported dozens more such attacks in July and August.

In a September survey, 46% of East Germans and 36% of West Germans said the high number of refugees arriving in Germany made them afraid.

On September 21, Hungary's parliament granted sweeping new powers to the army and police in an effort to keep migrants and refugees out of the country. The new legislation was passed with overwhelming support and allows the army to take part in border controls, restrict civil liberties and use "coercive weapons designed to cause bodily harm, although in a non-lethal way, unless it cannot be avoided." Non-lethal firearms, rubber bullets, pyrotechnics, tear gas, and net guns are permitted under the legislation. Police will also be able to enter private homes to search for suspected illegal migrants under the new laws. The measures come into effect a week after illegal border crossing was made a crime punishable by up to five years in jail.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has warned that Europe was being "overrun" in the worst refugee crisis since World War II. “They are overrunning us. They're not just banging on the door, they're breaking the door down on top of us. Our borders are in danger, our way of life built on respect for the law, Hungary and the whole of Europe is in danger."

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