To turn on refugees because of Paris is weak and wrong

Published by The Guardian (18th November, 2015)

Should we ban white Australians from coming to Britain? After all, one misfit teenager from Melbourne became so disillusioned with western life that he went to Iraq and reportedly blew himself up as an Islamic State suicide bomber earlier this year. With his long hair and love of football, Jake Bilardi would have passed unnoticed among Parisians slaughtered so callously as they ate, drank and danced on Friday night. And given his passport and skin colour, the young jihadi would have had little trouble entering the country.

It is, of course, an absurd suggestion. One man, however evil or misguided, should not damn an entire nation. Yet amid the howls of horror over the atrocities in France, there is a crescendo of voices demanding Europe stop refugees from seeking sanctuary, since a murderer might have sneaked in among hundreds of thousands coming here to escape war and repression. Such alarm is understandable after last week’s horrific attacks, which shake even the most open minds. Yet it is also profoundly wrong.

As I write, it remains unclear whether a Syrian passport found at the scene belonged to one of the killers, or was a fake, left there deliberately to spread fear. Certainly it seems strange to take a passport on a suicide attack, especially when foreign fighters have such documents destroyed or taken from them when joining jihad in Iraq and Syria. But even if worst fears are confirmed, and the murderer did mingle with refugees crossing over from Turkey, it should not stop Europe extending a welcome towards families fleeing carnage and conflict.

To do otherwise would fulfil the wishes of the terror masterminds, for whom tolerance is the enemy. They seek to destabilise our way of life, disrupt the idea of peaceful coexistence between people of different faiths, and destroy the compassion of liberal democracies. With the massacre in the Bataclan club I have now seen two people in my world killed by Islamists, 10 years apart. This makes me determined to stop them achieving their aims, while accepting that we are locked in a generational struggle amid the turbulence our nation helped cause in the Middle East.

Yet we share common cause with most refugees flooding to Europe from Iraq and Syria, who are driven by desire to share our freedoms after jihadis helped devastate their homelands. Those terrible events in France happen almost daily in Iraq and Syria, which is why families risk their lives to get on boats across the Mediterranean (although death is more likely to come from the Syrian regime some westerners suddenly seek to aid). The refugees I have met in Germany, Greece and Italy this year loathe Isis with bitter intensity – and the feeling is mutual, since the fanatics dislike those leaving their domain for undermining their proclamations of a paradisiacal caliphate.

There are justified, if regrettable, questions over the future of the Schengen area. But those calling for Europe to shut exterior borders and reject refugees should ask why people board lethal and overloaded boats. European Union borders are closed already, but desperate people resort to desperate measures. Shut off one route and another opens up; the only change is that those running from torture, war and repressionwill be fleeced still further by smugglers, and forced to take even more dangerous journeys. This can be seen already with the sinking of boats used to carry refugees; trafficking gangs simply switched to older, less seaworthy vessels and overcrowded inflatables.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, is right to say that if one attacker arrived masquerading as an asylum seeker then he is “a criminal and not a refugee”. None of the 750,000 refugees admitted to the United States since 9/11 have been arrested on domestic terror charges. But isolationists and misanthropes in Europe and north America are using the Paris massacres to argue against offering sanctuary. Such is the Orwellian nature of debate, some say a British government that sought to end support for rescue missions to pull drowning people from the sea is more compassionate than a German government struggling to offer sanctuary to huge numbers of refugees.

Like it or not, globalisation is a fact of life today, as can be attested to by the 5 million Britons living abroad. The maritime border between Turkey and the EU is so close Syrians have been swimming to one Greek island. Smearing and abandoning refugees will not solve the problem of some alienated individuals turning towards a contemptible cult that opposes modernity; indeed, it is more likely to make matters worse in a continent with 44 million Muslims. We will only defeat the deluded jihadis through a complex mixture of culture, diplomacy, education, security, sophisticated intelligence and smart integration.

The irony of the refugee crisis is that everyone should be united by the same solution: safe, legal and well-managed alternatives to the current chaos, which serves no one. The EU is wealthy, huge, and home to more than 500 million people. It could easily absorb the numbers fleeing Syria with managed migration that vets incomers. And the issue of people moving around the planet is only going to grow bigger as the world becomes wealthier. Sorting out this mess, rather than scaremongering, would be safer for both host countries and refugees, as would treating human beings fleeing hate and war with dignity. Sadly, it would also take political leadership.

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