Why Comparing Refugees to Skittles is Wrong and Just Dumb

skittles Trump meme refugees

Recently, a meme comparing Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles began circulating on social media. If you missed it, this is the image:

skittles refugee meme

The text reads “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.” Let’s ignore the punctuation and capitalization errors and address the actual point.

The argument is that just as you wouldn’t eat from a bowl of candy that contained a small percentage of unknown poisonous pieces, we shouldn’t let in Syrian refugees because they may contain a small number of unknown terrorists.

When stretched too far virtually every meme or even analogy can become strained and no longer serves the original purpose. I think this particular example, however, is especially egregious and misleading, but also exceedingly likely to be shared due to the political season.

Because of the nature of the meme and the potential widespread influence of it, it’s worthwhile to refute the misinformation and underlying worldview pushed by this meme.

Here are five reasons comparing refugees to Skittles is both wrong and dumb.

Refugees are humans, not candy. 

Again, I understand this is an analogy, but this is a situation in which those involved are often dehumanized and spoken of in ways that ignores or denies their humanity.

As Americans far removed from the atrocities, we can easily ignore or brush aside the real lives being destroyed by the deadly civil war raging in Syria. This tweet sums up the situation much more accurate than does the Skittle meme.

But even moving beyond all that, when you speak of “refugees” you ignore the individual refugee who often come to countries and make significant positive impact on their new homes.

For all those who shared the Skittles meme on their iPhone, they can thank Steve Jobs, whose biological father was Syrian. And if they enjoyed the meme, they should thank the person who took the photo of the bowl of Skittles, a refugee in the UK.

Refugees are in danger, not dangerous.

Refugees are just that—people seeking refuge due to a horrible situation in their home country. These are the people fleeing terrorism and war.

They don’t worry that someone might commit a terrorist act today. They know someone will.

The idea behind the meme is that we are bringing in the danger when we admit refugees, when in reality the danger is what they are attempting to leave behind.

They are leaving behind their homes and, in some cases, could be leaving behind their religion—if churches and Christians in America reach out to them.

Many say they would rather all the refugees stay in the Middle East, but would Christians not rather see these individuals come and be exposed to the love of Christ in America?

Refugees are screened, not brought in haphazardly.

The meme makes the assumption that the US government, like a person reaching into a bowl of candy, just indiscriminately grabs a handful and brings them over.

Our selection process of refugees is more like you taking your candy, running it through an x-ray, doing chemical tests on it, and then only eating a small percentage that were deemed most safe.

This is the process in place to screen refugees.

Some 18,000 of these people — chosen because they are the most vulnerable whether through family circumstances, injury or disability — have been referred to the United States for resettlement.

Once the US State Department receives their case files it employs NGO contractors to pre-screen them for eligibility for refugee status, then they are subjected to health and security checks.

Officers from the Department of Homeland Security fly from Washington to the camps and conduct interviews with candidates, seeking to weed out what a US official called “liars, criminals and terrorists.”

Each case file is reviewed by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s terrorist screening center, the DHS, the Department of Defense and “other agencies” — US intelligence.

“Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States,” another State Department official told reporters.

Meanwhile they receive medical tests and those with communicable diseases, most commonly tuberculosis, are given treatment before they can travel to the United States, often delaying the process.

The slowest and least effective way for a terrorist to enter America would be through the several year long, extensively screened refugee process.

The Skittles numbers are way off—except one.

Maybe the people meme actually did some amount of research because they did get one number right—three.

Since 2001, three refugees have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks, but that is out of more than 859,629.You’re going to need a much bigger bowl than the one shown.

That is a 1-in-286,543 ratio. To give you some perspective about how absurdly low that number is, about 1-in-22,541 Americans committed murder in 2014 alone.

In the last 15 years, around 20 refugees total have been arrested on any type of terrorism charges. Some of those charges have been due to traveling overseas to fight in the Syrian civil war, so not all of those arrests have anything to do with trying to kill Americans.

In fact, the risk of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1-in-3.64 billion per year.

For additional numbers, look at the total number of Syrian refugees the U.S. brings in. President Obama set a goal of 10,000. That may seem substantial until you look at other nations and regions.

By contrast, Europe took in almost 138,000 Syrian refugees in 2014. That is significantly more than the United States, but both still pale in comparison to the numbers in Africa and the Middle East. There are 4.8 million Syrian refugees in North Africa and the Middle East.

When speaking of refugees in general, almost 7 in 10 refugees (68%) end up in Africa (29%) and the Middle East (39%). Turkey houses 2.5 million refugees on its own. Pakistan has 1.6 million. And Lebanon 1.1 million.

The Skittles could be used against any group.

Take a large group. Isolate potentially dangerous individuals. Apply it to the whole. Yes, you can do that to refugees, but you can do the same to any other group.

And many have already done so. The refugee meme is not a new illustration. Extreme feminist groups created a meme about how dangerous all men are because some are rapists.

M&Ms men meme

Is that a fair assessment of men? Of course not, but it makes their point through a misleading statistic and a comparison to eating potentially poisoned candy.

With another police shooting of an unarmed black man in the news, could someone not make a similar meme that mischaracterizes all police officers due to the actions of a few?

This kind of illustration doesn’t actually bring noteworthy information. They only serve to reinforce the negative stereotypes people have of certain groups.

Along with rape and police shootings, the refugee crisis is a serious issue. The situation, not to mention the people, deserves more than to be turned into a childish meme.


  1. pmike

    It is probably counterproductive to your argument to bring Europe into the discussion. In your attempt to minimize potential danger from terrorists you are ignoring other significant issues associated with the large number of immigrants that are in the news. Europe is grappling with the large number of immigrants who are bringing their social mores with them. Sweden is losing the battle, according to their National Criminal Investigation Service.

    • 1. I’m not trying to minimize the potential danger from terrorists. They are clearly and obviously a danger. I’m pointing out the facts and statistics about refugees. Refugee is not synonymous with terrorist.
      2. My post is directly related to the situation in the U.S. Europe faces a much more difficult problem with screening refugees and seeing them integrate into the broader culture.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.