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Jihadist attacks: Is closing borders really the answer?

by Philippe Fargues
Director, Migration Policy Centre

19 November 2015


The 11/13 terrorist attacks that killed 130 and wounded 350 in Paris took place against the backdrop of an unprecedented migrant and refugee crisis with an enormous impact on public opinion. Repercussions on the way Europe responds to this crisis will be inevitable. Closing the country's borders was one of the very first measures that French President François Hollande announced on the night of the attacks. It was later softened into re-imposing systematic controls at national borders, a measure already advocated by a number of European governments. Governments have a duty to guarantee the security of their citizens and, in many ways, terrorism is linked to conflicts unfolding outside Europe. But should the war on terrorism force the implementation of additional barriers to migration and refugee movements, and incidentally to the mobility of EU citizens?

There are at least two links between migration and the attacks. First, the attackers all had a migration background and, second, one of them had recently entered Europe through Lesbos with a Syrian passport as part of a massive flow of refugees smuggled by sea from Turkey. Each of these facts calls for a remark.  

First, in all the cases identified by the police, the migrants were the attackers’ parents. The attackers themselves were born and grew up in France. It is in Europe that something went wrong with them. Home-grown terrorism has roots in poor social integration, failed education and exposure to Islamist terrorism through a number of ways, from local mosques and prisons to global jihadist media propagated through the internet.

Second, it has not yet been established whether the terrorist who entered through Lesbos was himself a Syrian refugee. He may have been a French or EU citizen returning from Syria, hidden among refugees, with a fake or stolen Syrian passport, which is a good way for someone recorded on terrorist police files to safely re-enter Europe after a Jihadi stay in Syria.

While closing the border to migrants and refugees would not be an appropriate solution to failed social integration in Europe, it might indeed facilitate the arrest of European terrorists returning from Syria. But identifying a handful of potential terrorists among a million genuine refugees would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Furthermore, stopping refugee flows at the external border of Europe would increase the already unbearable strain, created by 4 million refugees, on the economies, political systems and security of countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. It would increase insecurity and risk destabilising the EU’s neighbours and eventually threaten Europe’s security. 


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