In the mainstream German press, the mere suggestion (g) that some of the people claiming to be Syrian are fakers is enough to start an anguished controversy.
The Washington Post (g) which seems to be taking on the role of migrant-crisis bullshit detector, is more curious than afraid. It sends an Arabic-speaking reporter to the Vienna Westbahnhof (I wonder whether that idea has occurred to any German journalists?) and spots dozens of fakes in just a few hours. They include Iraqis with suspicious bullet wounds, an Algerian who freely confesses to being a drug dealer and attempted murderer, and a group of Indians claiming to be bank employees in Damascus who, comically enough, are unable to speak Arabic:
There are well-dressed Iranians speaking Farsi who insist they are members of the persecuted Yazidis of Iraq. There are Indians who don’t speak Arabic but say they are from Damascus. There are Pakistanis, Albanians, Egyptians, Kosovars, Somalis and Tunisians from countries with plenty of poverty and violence, but no war.
Many of the asylum seekers tell journalists and aid workers they are from Syria, even if they are not, under the assumption that a Syrian shoemaker fleeing bombed-out Aleppo will be welcome, while a computer programmer from Kosovo will not be.
It is common knowledge on the migratory route that some who are not from Syria shred their real passports in Turkey and simply fake it.
A couple of reporters, one a native Arabic speaker, who wandered through train stations in Vienna found plenty of newcomers whose accents did not match their stories and whose stories did not make sense.
Swimming in the river of humanity are shady characters, too, admitted criminals, Islamic State sympathizers and a couple of guys from Fallujah, one with a fresh bullet wound, who when asked their occupation seemed confused.
“Army,” said one. His friend corrected him. “We’re all drivers,” he said.
At Vienna Westbahnhof railway station, a tight clutch of men lined up at the ticket windows. Days of rough travel lay behind them. All had one aim: Germany.
When asked by a reporter where they were from, the men answered, “We are from Syria.”
When a reporter switched to the North African dialect, the men laughed nervously. “We are Algerians,” they admitted.
Hamza, 27, is from Algiers. “I am illegal, not refugee,” he said. “In my country, the only thing you can do there is either drugs or crimes. So I was in prison several times, for drugs, also for trying to kill another guy.”
“It’s really easy now to travel with these refugees. We received food and shelter, and a nice welcoming from people so far.”
He said he has met Tunisians, Moroccans and Libyans playing the same game.
“So when someone asks us, where do you live? We say Damascus. Where are you from? Answer Syria.”
Another group of men, standing in line for free food, spoke English among themselves but with an Indian accent.
One said his name was “Hassan.”
“We grew up in Syria; our fathers worked there for many years,” Hassan said.
He had worked in Syria, in a bank, in Damascus, he said.
When a reporter spoke to them in Arabic, the men smiled and said, “No Arabic, only English.” Asked where they lived in Damascus, they couldn’t really say.
They excused themselves and wandered away.
Most economic migrants and war refugees in Vienna say they have arrived without showing a single document to authorities. Nor are they photographed, fingerprinted or subjected to biometric measurements.
There are two poles to the world's reaction to the migrant crisis: Admiration for the welcoming attitude of Germans, and amazement at their naivete and short-sightedness. Sometimes both at the same time.