By Andrey Sazonov, President European Horizons Chapter at the University of Iowa
On November 13th France had witnessed unprecedented attacks on its capital that resulted in the death of 130 people. Eight terrorists organized in three groups engaged in suicide bombings, hostage taking, and shootings as they carried out terrorist acts at the Stade de France stadium, Le Bataclan concert hall, and at several restaurants and cafes.
While the French authorities continue to investigate the ferocious terrorist act that significantly increased a sense of insecurity among the French and their fellow European citizens, a number of European leaders are raising their concerns in regards to the ongoing refugee crisis while criticizing the EU’s response.
In fact, just few hours after the attacks, the leader of French far-right National Front party, Marie Le Pen, claimed that the French government should restrict migrants from entering the country while cracking down on radical mosques and banning “Islamist” groups. The National Front is well known for its hostile view towards Muslim immigrants and currently many political analysts predict that in the next month’s regional elections the National Front will likely win in Nord-Pas-de-Calais region.
During the weekend following the terrorist acts, leaders in Czech Republic, Germany, and Poland claimed that there is a direct connection between the influx of Syrian refugees and Paris attacks as it became known that at least one of the terrorists implicated in the attacks posed as a refugee from Syria. Polish government went a step further by claiming that Poland is not willing to participate in the EU’s resettlement program any longer.
Shortly after, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico released a statement where he claimed that Muslims in Slovakia and all over Europe are a substantial threat to the security of the whole region. Mr. Fico also claimed that majority of terrorist attacks that took place on European soil, with the exception of one (mass shooting carried out by Anders Behring), were carried out by Muslims.
In Germany, a country that set an example for other European states by welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees on its territory, critics of Angela Merkel are trying to create domestic pressures by criticizing the emerged Willkommenskultur while referring to the heightened security concerns and recent Paris attacks in order to prevent further uncontrolled immigration.
Europe is currently experiencing its largest crisis in a generation and the refugee problem indeed exacerbates some of the most pressing issues. It aggravates the current difficulties experienced by Greece that is struggling to stay afloat; it gives second thoughts to the British voters who yet have to determine whether or not Britain should stay in the EU in a referendum promised by Mr. Cameron; it deteriorates the relations between Germany and eastern European nations; and it reduces a sense of the European unity when it is needed to address Russia’s aggressive attitude and actions.
The new level of threat is indeed rising above Europe; however, it becomes more and more apparent that current responses of many European leaders are not going to lead to a creation of effective strategies that are required to solve the most pressing problems.
Mass influx of refugees certainly poses a substantial threat to the European nations, nonetheless it is important to keep in mind that, as it was mentioned by the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, “those who organized [Paris] attacks and those that perpetrated them are exactly those that the refugees are fleeing and not the opposite.”
While it is true that ISIS operatives can enter European nations pretending to be refugees, it does not mean that every single asylum seeker is a terrorist. In fact, it is now known that at least six terrorists who conducted attacks in Paris turned out to be European citizens, not refugees.
Crucial point that European leaders need to consider is that peaceful welcome and accommodation of Syrian refugees is not only morally right, it will also reduce the chaos and the possibility of jihadist ideology spreading all over the refugee centers and communities thus leading to elimination of the recruiting resource that ISIS can utilize. If radical responses and actions will follow, thousands of frustrated asylum seekers can be transformed into potential ISIS recruits and this can lead to unthinkable consequences.
Germany’s response to the influx of refugees and its Willkommenskultur should not be simply abandoned and criticized as a consequence of the Paris attacks. By inviting hundreds of thousands of refugees Germany prevented humanitarian crisis and chose to address the problem in an organized manner knowing that if it would not do so, issue could turn into a complete chaos. This approach should serve as an example to other European nations.
Advancement of solidarity and unity is necessary in order to solve the refugee crisis and the problems that it aggravates. Radical response, that in some cases was followed by spending of millions of Euros on razor-wire fencing and other extreme border control measures, will only further complicate the humanitarian crisis and will alienate incoming refugees together with those who have already entered European countries. The fight for a safe and strong Europe should begin on the domestic fronts.