It seemed like an inevitability that in amongst the million or so refugees who have entered Europe this year, eventually one of them would turn out to be an ISIS mole. This came to horrific fruition in one Europe’s worst terrorist attacks this week, when Paris was devastated by a multi-pronged attack involving suicide bombers, mass shootings and the horrific slaughter of innocent lives. As France entered three days of mourning and a state of emergency, investigations began to get to the bottom of those behind the attacks, and round up anyone involved who may still be alive. Soon it transpired that one of the attackers had entered the EU through Greece as a refugee, and the right-wing went into overdrive.
But the fixation on the ‘refugee’ status of two of the Paris attackers has taken precedence over the obvious fact that six of them appear to already be European citizens. And while their identities will surely come to light in more detail over the coming days, it seems that even without the involvement of the two men who entered from Syria, these attacks would have still gone ahead and been enormous in their brutality and scope regardless. Already those seeking to make political capital from the attacks have thrown their voices into the arena, with Poland’s new right-wing government announcing the EU asylum seeker quota system dead and slamming the door in the face of thousands of people fleeing the very people who were responsible for these attacks.
Only a diplomatic solution will solve the Syria crisis and stem the flow of Syria refugees. Closing off legal routes to these desperate people will not stop them from coming; it will only serve to increase the use of illegal means, throwing millions of pounds into the hands of people traffickers and putting thousands more lives at risk as people attempt ever more dangerous sea and land crossings, through minefields and rail tunnels, and in creaking, unseaworthy boats. But it would be a grave error to link these terrorist attacks to migration. It seems certain these attacks would have happened regardless of the involvement of Syria ISIS moles, and there is every likelihood that more effective co-operation in registering and housing migrants will make it more likely that we weed out those who pose a danger before they enter the EU. We must remember that those fleeing Syria do so to escape those who slaughtered Parisians as they went about their daily lives. For Syrians this is an everyday reality they are trying to flee.
Europe’s response to the refugee crisis has been far from perfect, and its record across different member states has ranged from the admirable to the downright despicable. But Europeans should be proud to offer sanctuary to anybody fleeing a conflict zone or from extreme poverty, and strive to ensure more can share in the wealth we have, not just within our borders but outside them as well. Those blaming refugee admissions for the Paris attacks, who would like to see our borders closed and our ports sealed off, must understand that the people who carried out the ISIS attacks in Paris are the very people that millions of refugees are running from.
Paris was a horrific nightmare, a disturbing reminder even in the safest of places that life can be snatched away in the blink of an eye. But for people living in Syria, Paris is a daily reality so destructive that they have chosen to pack up their things and travel thousands of miles through incredible danger, risking death to get to a place they think might be safe. This decision has not been made lightly. The refugee crisis has reached such massive proportions only four years after the Syria conflict began, when it seems no hope of remaining still exists, and many have reached breaking point in overcrowded refugee camps where conditions are truly dire. We need not be reminded that ISIS carries out regular public executions and is responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Yazidi Christians, among an ever growing catalogue of the gravest human rights violations. One day is Paris is day to day life for the people of Syria, and that is why they have been forced to leave. How many Paris style attacks would it take for you to consider leaving everything you have and moving to another country, in a journey that poses considerable risk to your own life?