Beware the fake migrant images shared online

This photo is being circulated online as if represented the current refugee crisis in Europe. It is in fact an old photo.
This photo is being circulated online as if represented the current refugee crisis in Europe. It is in fact an old photo.


The arrival of tens of thousands of migrants in Europe has prompted an avalanche of false information and fake images posted on social media, often by far-right Internet users. They aim to use whatever means they can to convince people that these migrants should not be welcomed. FRANCE 24 's Observers debunk a few of these lies.

Ultra-conservative websites like Fdesouche, Dreuz.info, and the Observateurs.ch (not to be confused with FRANCE 24’s Observers) are using social media to push their anti-immigration views with false information. Here are just a few of the methods they have used over the past days.


Conspiracy theory: “The picture of Aylan Kurdi was staged to sway public opinion”

Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian boy, drowned along with his mother and brother after their boat sank during their journey from Turkey to Greece. The photo of his body, which washed up on a Turkish beach, prompted an international outcry. But some Internet users think it was staged. According to several websites with close ties to extremist groups, the police – who took the photo – moved Aylan’s body to a more “photogenic” spot on the beach. As proof, they share this photo, in which a police officer squats above the body of a child. They claim this child is Aylan, before his body was moved.

© Image Anadolu Agency.

However, this photo does not show Aylan – it actually shows his older brother, Galip, who was found dead a few hundred metres away from Aylan. You can see that their shoes are not the same colour: Galip’s are red, while Aylan’s are black. Other photos of the brothers confirm this, and also show that they wore different coloured T-shirts.


Alarmist photos: “Migrants are all on steroids!”

On the Facebook page of Pegida UK, a self-proclaimed branch of the German anti-immigration party Pegida, a photomontage shows several very muscular men getting off boats accompanied by mocking legends that insinuate they are not refugees.

Image published on the Facebook page Pegida UK.


However, these photos were actually taken in 2013 on Christmas Island in Australia, which is clear from the border police’s blue uniforms, which have “Australian Customs and Border Protection" written on them.

The photo below was relayed with a caption explaining that it was an “invasion” of Italy, where “6,000 illegal immigrants arrived in just 48 hours”. However, this photo was taken back in 1991 and shows the “La Vlora” ship bringing 20,000 migrants to the Italian port of Bari, as the Belgian TV station RTBF pointed out.

This photo was widely relayed with false descriptions, and was even reposted by a Belgian MP. 

Rewriting headline on Facebook: “A little girl was killed by a migrant”

On September 10, web journalists for the TV station France 3 Nord noticed that an old article from back in April was suddenly getting a surprising amount of traffic. The article was about the death of Chloé, a 9-year-old girl who was killed by a man of Polish origin in the northern town of Calais. (Calais is famous for being a point of passage towards the United Kingdom for many migrants and refugees from African and Middle Eastern countries.)

The title of the article was modified by Facebook users (left). 

So why was the article suddenly getting so many clicks? France 3 Nord’s chief editor explains:

We realised that anti-migrant Internet users were trying to use this tragedy to further their own purposes. The title of our article, which was “Chloé, kidnapped, killed and raped in Calais: the suspect confesses” was turned into “Chloé, 9, kidnapped, killed and raped in Calais by a migrant.” Which we never wrote!

According to France 3, this lie came from a motorcycle club who reposted the article on their Facebook page and changed the title. The club has since apologised and taken down their post, but by then, the link had already been shared more than 800 times.

Photo with a fake caption: “A jihadist has slipped in among the refugees”

Ever since the French magazine Valeurs actuelles claimed that 4,000 jihadists managed to hide among migrants in order to enter Europe, some Internet users have been desperately looking for proof to back this up. This is one of those efforts. This photo was relayed on the anti-immigrant Croatian Facebook page “Hrvat Sam”. On the right, a man holding an automatic rifle is presented as being in Syria. On the left, a man who looks very similar poses in a train station, and is presented as being in Germany. These images are accompanied by the caption: “This is not a refugee crisis, it’s a movement of troops! Islamist refugees not welcome in Croatia.”


While it does appear to be the same man in both photos, there is no indication that he belongs to a jihadist group. First clue: the man is clean-shaven, which is strictly forbidden among jihadist groups. Second clue: his uniform appears to be that of a Kurdish combatant belonging to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is in fact battling against jihadists from the Islamic State group in Syria.

Dangerous manipulations

When contacted by FRANCE 24, the founder of the website HoaxBuster expressed deep concern because he says he is receiving “huge amounts of queries from Internet users – much more than usual – who are trying to verify information about migrants". However, he says, “we just don’t have time to verify them all."

Even after these fake stories are debunked, most of the sites in question do not publish corrections. Most of these articles are still online.