The terror attacks in Paris have had a Pavlov-effect on politicians

POSTED: 12/1/15 8:34 PM

The terror attacks in Paris have had a Pavlov-effect on politicians. Never before was the call for closing the borders so loud. Never before did so few people think that closing the borders is a practical impossibility. People who want to get in, will find a way. But the larger issue in the aftermath of Paris is about civil rights and the way politicians are eager to take them away.

Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, suggests in an op-ed in the Volkskrant to ignore the worthless pieces of advice fear mongers are spreading around like candy. His view on the current situation contains valuable lessons for the way the Caribbean is looking at immigration issues. This is Roth’s story:

“The terrible attacks in Paris have provided a number of politicians with an apparently irresistible chance to try closing the doors to refugees while at the same time they attempt to expand surveillance by security services even further. It is important. On principle and for our collective safety, to resist fear and to reject prejudice, as some political leaders have done.

A fake Syrian passport, reportedly left behind by an attacker of unknown identity and nationality, suggests that he entered Europe with the recent flow of refugees. The presence of the passport could indicate a conscious attempt by Islamic State to stigmatize people who dare to flee from their caliphate. It has resulted in a choir of voices that urge to keep refugees and asylum seekers out, in spite of the fact that the attackers that have been identified so far, turned out to be French and Belgian citizens.

The focus on refugees in the aftermath of the recent attacks is a dangerous diversion from Europe’s violent home-grown terrorism. The roots of the problem are notoriously complex, but they have partially to do with the social exclusion of earlier generations of refugees – the persistent discrimination, hopelessness and despair in neighborhoods on in the periphery of certain cities.

Finding solutions for these serious social injustices should be the most important issue in the current public debate, instead of the polarizing we-versus- them rhetoric that we have mainly heard so far. These communities – like most of them law-abiding – must be embraced, not only as citizens, but also as people who are in the best position to restrain others from violence and who are able to provide information about those who revert to it.

Insinuating and accusing complete communities increases the risk of undermining their potential for cooperation with the police. This way, the dissatisfied youth will alienate even further.

For many refugees on their desperate flight, away from endless violence and abuse in countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea, and their limited possibilities to live with help and dignity in neighboring countries, the roads ultimately lead to Europe. The question is whether they arrive in an orderly manner, including a security check, or in a chaotic manner, with the help of human smugglers.

The effect of European policy so far is that refugees are forced to risk their life at sea for a chance at asylum. And a chaotic arrival with boats via several Greek islands almost offers no possibility to stop someone with terroristic plans who sneaks in this way.

The European Union could offer a safer and more humane alternative by offering refugees relocation and humanitarian visa from neighboring countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordania, and other places where refugees first gather. With adequate help the refugee organizations of the United Nations and the receiving countries can screen refugees for security risks, while Europe can make clear that there is no need to cross the Mediterranean stuffed in unsafe boats, because access is not abruptly closed off.

Setting up processing centers in neighboring countries would also facilitate relocation outside of Europe – in traditionally receiving countries like the United States, Canada and Australia, but also in the Gulf States and Russia who so far have refused to relocate Syrians or others as refugees. Not everyone will opt for this more orderly process – and they should not be obliged to do so either – but the option could help to decrease the irregular flow and make it more difficult for would-be terrorists to hide among the hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers that are currently confronting the controlling authorities on Europe’s southern coastline with an impossible task.

The asylum seekers who manage to enter when they, as most of them do, travel further north. The extremely slow execution of the EU-plan for organized relocation combined with the fences that drop the problem on their neighbor-countries results in massive, uncontrolled streams of people – a gift for those who want to circumvent security controls. Here also an orderly method of working would facilitate more effective screening.

Refugees are not only made the scapegoat, policy makers also use the attacks in Paris to expand their authorities for mass surveillance even further, while those authorities are already far-reaching in many countries. The recent intelligence law in France is an example. And this while every time it turns out that the perpetrators of the attacks were known to the police, but that they were not arrested due to a shortage of resources at the police. Francois Hollande, the French president, has promised to add 8,500 people to law enforcement. That seems a more sensible approach than investing in collecting data on an even larger scale without the required resources to follow up on this information.

If people feel so threatened, some politicians are much too ready to ignore individual rights with a promise of a fast solution. We should learn from the disastrous American reaction to the attacks of September 11, 2001. Ditching fundamental rights or making people with a certain religious of social profile the scapegoat is not only damaging to those directly involved. It contributes to answer that sows discord and animosity that terrorist groups want to attract more recruits. From painful experience we have learned that smart anti terrorism policy is a policy that respects rights.”

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