The vast majority of terror attacks in Europe are carried out by Europe citizens. A report by the Danish Institute for International Studies found that between January 2016 and April 2017, no refugees were involved in terror attacks in Europe. Four asylum-seekers (three of whom had their asylum requests rejected, and two of whom arrived before the refugee crisis started in 2015) were involved in attacks. Nevertheless, the report concludes that the bigger threat by far comes from homegrown extremists.
The UN’s refugee agency defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence”. Most commonly, this indicates people fleeing from violence or political oppression perpetrated by governments. However, it also includes people fleeing from the atrocities carried out by terrorist groups such as the so-called Islamic State, including in countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, opinion polls suggest that most Europeans believe that accepting refugees will increase the chances of terrorist attacks on European soil. A particular concern is that terrorists might hide within refugee flows as a backdoor into the EU. It is believed that some returning foreign fighters have exploited migrant flows to this end, although research published in 2017 by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has found “no concrete evidence that terrorist travellers systematically use those flows of refugees to enter Europe unnoticed”.
In order to take a closer look at the local impact of the refugee crisis, we have launched our ‘Cities & Refugees‘ project – aimed at fostering a Europe-wide dialogue between citizens, refugees and asylum seekers, NGOs, politicians, and European leaders. The emphasis is on connecting local, everyday life at the city level to decisions made in Brussels and national capitals.
Today, we are looking at Paris, France. In 2017, France had the third-highest amount of first-time asylum applicants in the EU-28 (and, in 2016, Paris was the department with the highest amount of applicants in all of France). It has also suffered some of the most horrific terrorist attacks on European soil in recent years.
In November 2015, Belgian and French citizens (of Moroccan and Algerian extraction), along with two Iraqi citizens, attacked a concert hall, a major stadium, restaurants and bars in the city of Paris, killing 130 and injuring hundreds. Coming after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, it made 2015 France’s deadliest year for terrorism-related deaths.
The far-right often argue that accepting refugees means making Europe more vulnerable to terrorists. Many analysts counter that homegrown extremism is a much more significant threat. They argue that overhauling integration policies, as well as implementing effective counter-radicalisation programmes and fostering stronger relationships between minority community leaders and counter-terrorism officials would be a more effective way to tackle terror.Curious to know more about the experience of refugees and security in Paris? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Marcel, who argues that letting refugees into Europe is making us more vulnerable to terrorism. Is he right?
To get a reaction, we spoke to Sebastien Maire, Chief Resilience Officer of the City of Paris. Part of his job is to help coordinate different departments, making Paris more resilient in the face of unforeseen events such as extreme weather events or terror attacks. What would he say to Marcel?
To get another perspective, we put the same question to Aurélien Legrand, Paris Departmental Secretary for the anti-immigration Front National (FN) party. In the 2017 French presidential elections, the FN’s candidate – Marine Le Pen – made it through to the second round and received roughly 34% of the vote. What would he say?
Not only is he right, but recent examples demonstrate this: multiple terrorists who struck France, notably during the Bataclan attacks, entered among the refugees. Moreover, the Islamic State, which is generally reliable when it utters threats, said it would exploit migration corridors to send jihadists into Europe. So this is no longer some sort of fantasy, it is a documented reality, which unfortunately cost the lives of many in Paris.
Next up, we had a comment sent in from Pedro, who says he’s heard that terrorist attacks in Europe are not being carried out by refugees, but by European citizens. So, is it more a question of integration policies? How would Sebastien Maire respond?
And how would Aurélien Legrand react to the same comment?
It is more complicated than that. Indeed, it is a mixture of both: there are attacks committed by individuals who arrived through refugee channels – we see this continually. Then, there are those who were born and raised in Europe and who, indeed, turn to terrorism. And there, indeed, there is a question of the assimilation of those individuals, our assimilation policy, and the failure of prior assimilation. But it is clear – and this is what we defend at the National Front – that this assimilation cannot be done correctly when there are too many individuals arriving at once on our territory. Today, we are not capable of assimilating the millions of individuals who enter Europe.
Finally, we had a comment sent in from Jai, who thought that criticism of the principle of asylum demonstrates that Europe “talks the talk” when it comes to compassion and internationalism, but never actually “walks the walk”:
So, the rights of asylum seekers as enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights are fine as long as there aren’t too many seeking asylum, but the moment there is need based on a real and present danger to life, we think about scrapping the laws? To me that says we are a civilisation that places great value on lofty principles until those principles need to be manifested. Then we revert to self-interest.
How would Aurélien Legrand respond to this comment, given that his party is so critical of current asylum policy? Is it hypocrisy? Especially given that the 1951 UN Refugee Convention was initially founded to help with the problem of European refugees after World War II?
No, this is not hypocrisy. The reality is that that the right to asylum has largely been exploited. We grant asylum, indiscriminately, to individuals who do not need it. In France, for example, the first nationality in terms of political asylum is Albania. It does not seem, to me, that Albania – which is currently applying for EU membership – needs it. We need to decide: either we grant them asylum, or they enter the EU.
In any case, we can see that this right has been misappropriated, and this is something that is very troublesome, as it diverts attention from individuals who truly need it. It is urgent to reform asylum rights, to make it correspond to its initial intent, and actually protect people in great danger. We must denounce today an asylum procedure has been hijacked as an alternative method to gain immigration status. That was never its original objective.
It is worth noting that only 6.5% of requests from Albanian asylum applicants in France are accepted, because Albania is considered a “secure” country. The overall success rate of asylum claims in France in 2017 was 36%.
Has the refugee crisis increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks? Or, given that terror attacks in Europe are perpetrated by homegrown terrorists, is it more a question of social exclusion and flawed integration policies in some EU Member States? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!