Paris attacks give EU leaders excuse to get tough on refugees

Gilles de Kerchove said it was unlikely that terrorists would be present amongst the migrants. [European Council]

Reports of a Syrian passport found near the body of one of the gunmen who died in Friday night’s attacks may change attitudes towards migrants across Europe. The EURACTIV network reports.

Though now said to be incorrect, according to The Guardian, the allegation is playing into the hands of populists. 

Several politicians, including the EU counter-terrorism czar Gilles De Kerchove, have said it was very unlikely that terrorists could be sent in to Europe among the migrants, who arrive unchecked.

>>Read: EU counter-terrorism czar: Terrorists among asylum seekers? Unlikely

In Germany, Hans-Georg Maasen, the President of the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution, stated in an interview with Funke-Mediengrupperight before the Paris attacks: “It is possible that with the refugees, terrorists are coming, too. But we will find that very unlikely”.

But moods are changing fast since a Greek minister incorrectly alleged (and has now retracted, according to The Guardian) that a passport found at the Stade de France attack had been registered as a migrant in Greece in October.

“The holder of the passport passed through the island of Leros on 3 October 2015, where he was identified according to EU rules,” Greece’s deputy minister in charge of police, Nikos Toskas, said in a statement.

Leros island, in the southern Aegean sea, is one of five preferred entry points where Greek authorities have been setting up so-called hotspots to register and identify arrivals.

Toskas did not know if the Syrian passport had been checked by other countries through which the holder might have passed on his way to France.

A Greek police source quoted by Reuters said the passport’s owner was a young man who had arrived in Leros on a small vessel from Turkey with a group of 69 refugees and had his fingerprints taken by Greek officials.

Following the Paris bloodshed, populist leaders around Europe rushed to demand an end to an influx of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

In France, where the authorities established temporary border checks expected to last one month, far-right leader Marine Le Pen said border controls should remain permanent.

Alain Juppé, one of the French centre-right leaders with hopes to run in the 2017 presidential elections, gave his support to the government’s handling of the situation, but added that the EU’s borderless Schengen system had gone “bankrupt”.

Merkel targeted

In Germany, one day after the attacks in Paris, a debate over stricter asylum policies is emerging, in which German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who advocated the “open door” policy vis-à-vis migrants, is obviously targeted.

On one side, conservative politicians from several provinces call for a tougher stance on migrants, while on the other, the government is warning that the fight against terrorism should not happen at the expense of refugees coming to Germany. 

Bavaria State Prime Minister Horst Seehofer from the Christian Socialist Union (CSU) said that “the stronger control of European and national borders” are one of the additional security measures that are needed now.

Germany “must know, who is passing through the country. That is the order of the day”, Seehofer said, also referring to an arrest made in Bavaria several days ago, of a Montenegrin arms smuggler, which is potentially connected to the Paris attacks.

Bavaria’s finance minister Markus Söder said that if Europe is not able to secure its borders, Berlin should also think about closing Germany’s borders. “The time of uncontrolled migration and illegal immigration must be over. Paris changed everything,” Söder said in an interview with Welt am Sonntag.

The State Prime Minister of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich, said that Germany should “stop allowing people uncontrolled entry, especially in the light of yesterday’s events”. The attacks show that our current security measures are not enough, explained the politician, who belongs to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Social Democrat Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel warned against creating new prejudices against Muslim migrants: “Many people are seeking protection and security in Europe. We should not make the people suffer that are actually fleeing from those regions where the Islamic terrorism is coming from,” he said.

Gabriel also said the German government is still protecting refugees. “We will make sure that these people will not suffer from the fact that murderers are threatening Europe in the name of religion.”

Although Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) has ordered tougher security controls at Germany’s train stations and airports on Saturday, he also warned against “connecting [terrorism] with the debate about refugees“. 

De Maizière said that the political climate towards this topic was already “rough”. There was an alarming increase of attacks against asylum centers. Without referring to anybody, the Minister called on “everybody” to pause for a moment and think “what speeches they make and what they do”. 

Fico feels justified, every single Muslin will be monitored

In Slovakia, a country whose government is among the most hostile to migrants, especially because of their religion, Prime Minister Robert Fico insiststed he was confirmed right about Syrian refugees, while other EU leaders were wrong.

“We have been saying that there are enormous security risks linked to migration. Hopefully, some people will open their eyes now,” Fico told journalists in Bratislava after convening an emergency meeting of security officials.

Fico has previously said his country would accept only 200 ‘Christian’ immigrants from Syria.

>>Read: Commission frowns on ‘Christian only’ solidarity with migrants

Fico also said on Sunday in a TV debate that the authorities will start to monitor every single Muslim living in Slovakia. The Slovak Islam Foundation has reacted by saying that Prime Minister has de facto stated that part of the Slovak citizen pose a threat to their own country and that he publicly destroyed the image of Slovakia as free and democratic country.

“The security of the Republic is the utmost priority of the government,” Fico says. His governing party Smer-SD is running a pre-election campaign with the claim “Protecting Slovakia”. In the aftermath of Paris attacks, the Security Council of the Slovak Republic met, but has not, so far, raised the alert level in the country.

Some security measures will be taken however, the Prime Minister announced. Every illegal crossing will be considered a security risk and every illegal migrant will be arrested. 

Prague mentions closing of Schengen borders

In the Czech Republic, the Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said that to keep Europe safe it is necessary to control the migration flows and to be sure who, from where and why is coming to Europe.

“The Czech Republic will be an active member of the coalition fighting against terrorism and Islamic state,” PM Sobotka said. Europe must be “strong and ready to defend its values, to ensure the security of citizens and to jointly face terrorism,” Sobotka added.

Czech Deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, founder of the ANO 2011 centrist and populist party, said the Schengen border would have to be closed. 

Confusion in Poland

In Poland, confusion reigns since European affairs minister designate Konrad Szyma?ski said yesterday that the country will not accept migrants under European Union (EU) quotas after the Paris attacks.

>>Read: Poland won’t relocate migrants after Paris attacks

While outgoing Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz did her best in expressing Poland’s solidarity with France, a country traditionally dear to Poles, Szyma?ski, and incoming foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski, astonished Europe with their rhetoric.

Both Szyma?ski and Waszczykowski linked the Paris tragedy to the refugee crisis, raising fears as Poland offers a truly fertile ground for anti-immigration radicalism.

This prompted the new Prime Minister Beata Szyd?o (appointed on 12 November) to distance herself from their comments saying that it was “not the right time to address all the questions at hand”.

This prompted Waszczykowski, who recently called himself an Islamophobe, to withdraw from his earlier statement, pointing however that each of the accepted asylum seekers would have to be scrutinized to exclude any terrorist threat.

One more politician is expected to play a significant role in the future EU dispute on the refugee crisis – Antoni Macierewicz, to be appointed a new minister of national defense today.

Macierewicz is renowned for his uncompromising radicalism. In the aftermath of Paris attacks, he commented that Poland is not ready to take in large groups of Muslims.

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