The Refugee Detectives
In The Atlantic’s April issue, Graeme Wood wrote about Germany’s high-stakes effort to sort people fleeing death from opportunists and pretenders.
I research refugee flows in the Middle East and teach courses about refugees and human rights at Johns Hopkins, and I found Graeme Wood’s recent article to have some important problems that I wish to draw your attention to.
Wood appears to be on a mission to create an exciting story of liars being caught, but he’s missing some important context in some places, while in other places his account is stigmatizing and misleading.
Allow me to be more specific.
Midway through the article, Mr. Wood talks about asylum-seekers who burn their fingertips because they may, he argues, be “villains” or else seek to escape “villains” in their home countries. This mystified me. The tone and word choice strike me as a shallow attempt to drum up drama. But more importantly, he’s leaving out or covering up the key reason asylum-seekers actually do this, which is to avoid being registered on the Eurodac system that, under the Dublin regulation, would have them deported from Germany, for example, to the first EU country in which they set foot (usually Greece or Italy, these days). They often feel they have no choice and it’s a desperate move to allow them to migrate on. In any case, “villains” have little to do with it except in very rare cases. There’s plenty of literature on the fingerprint burning phenomenon, and I wonder why Mr. Wood didn’t address it. His account is misleading at best and deceptive at worst.