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Terrorism and migration: a response to the November 2015 Paris attacks

Those in Europe who advocate the rights of refugees and migrants worry that the attacks in Paris last Friday will be used against immigrants and asylum-seekers. There is no question that security concerns in Western Europe play into the hands of those on the Right, who – for reasons unrelated to security – have tried to raise fears of migration ever since the influx of refugees from the Middle East began.

Starting when the (gradually-growing) stream of migration suddenly became a mainstream media issue over the summer, immigration hawks have suggested terrorists or militants are among the women, children and men seeking asylum. In discussions, I have always insisted that is unlikely. Why? Logically, the so-called Islamic State (IS) has the money and resources needed to put its fighters on flights straight to Europe, if that is what it intends. It would avoid the risks involved in crossing the Mediterranean and undertaking the long, hard and uncertain route via the Balkans to Western Europe – during which the fighters must travel among all the victims and enemies of the IS. Furthermore, such radicals may not even need to be imported from Syria or Iraq to France, if they are already there.

There is, however, a real connection between terrorism and migration: terrorism created the current wave of migration. Paris experienced on Friday, in a horrible way, what people in Syria and Iraq have experienced for years: the wanton killing of innocents to spread fear and create subjugation. Millions of people are fleeing that.

So what if one of the attackers actually did enter the EU via Greece? What if one person among the many thousands was a terrorist? What would closing the borders and halting the flow of migration achieve?

First, it would divert future attackers onto alternative routes. If it turned out that cheap flights from Egyptian holiday towns like Hurghada were used by the attackers to come to Europe, would those flights all be stopped – and would that be a reasonable response? Short of making all travel from the Middle East and North Africa impossible, nothing can guarantee that radicals with homicidal intentions don’t enter Europe to join those who are already there.

Second, the weakest, poorest, and least-desirable countries (from a Human Rights perspective) will be left to deal with the many thousands who are stuck between Syria and Western Europe. Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, etc., don’t have the same capacity to shelter and feed displaced people as France, Germany, and the (currently deplorably insular and self-centred) United Kingdom. Those who would suffer most are those fleeing terror in the Middle East, and who are effectively natural allies of the West; they have chosen (under duress) between the IS’ and Assad’s vision of the world, and the vision proposed by the West. The chaotic, inhumane, improvised camps in the Balkans which would spring up would be places where hatred and disillusionment with the hypocrisy of the West could grow.

Third, the so-called Islamic State would win. Apart from the inevitable propaganda victory, what the terrorists want is for Europe to show (as they see it) its “true colours”: an enemy of Muslims, a talker of Rights but denier of Rights to non-whites, a weak and hypocritical society unable to stand up for its principles. It would, in a sense, succeed at proving that Western ideals of liberalism, rights, and solidarity – Libert√©, Egalit√©, Fraternit√© – do not pare up to the IS’ more practical ideas.

The attacks in Paris were an attack on the idea of Paris, as a free and multicultural place; an attack on the idea of Human Rights, which originated from Paris (1789); an attack on the peaceful coexistence of human beings regardless of beliefs, origins and heritage. The attackers aim to say “there are them, and there are us, and Muslims must choose sides”.

The free world must remain the more attractive force, for tactical as well as intrinsic reasons. France has closed its borders, which is a natural knee-jerk reaction, but it will have to open them again, and accept many refugees from Syria and Africa; people who will be grateful for the chance to enjoy life and liberty, and will not tolerate terrorists in their midst.

The post originally appeared on the author’s website here and is being reproduced here at the author’s suggestion.

Open Borders editorial note: As described on our general blog and comments policies page: “The moral and intellectual responsibility for each blog post also lies with the individual author. Other bloggers are not responsible for the views expressed by any author in any individual blog post, and the views of bloggers expressed in individual blog posts should not be construed as views of the site per se.”

The image featured in the header of this post is a photograph of the Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt, lit up in solidarity with France after the November 2015 attacks in Paris. It is used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike licence.

Related reading

Off-site discussion: This tweet perfectly captures why it’s appalling to blame refugees for the Paris attacks by German Lopez, Vox, November 13, 2015. The article was discussed on the Open Borders Action Group here.

You might also be interested in reading our backgrounder pages on these topics:

Dr. Philip Mader is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in Brighton, UK. The views expressed in his posts are his personal views and do not reflect those of any organisations.

3 thoughts on “Terrorism and migration: a response to the November 2015 Paris attacks”

  1. Nice post, Phil.

    I like the part about the difficulty for a terrorist of going through the refugee system compared to buying a plane ticket. No sane person would wait a few years to be resettled when buying a plane ticket is an option, or when it’s possible to recruit from the target countries (since so far all of the known Paris attackers were either Belgian or French nationals).

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