The refugee—or migrant, depending on the news outlet—crisis is currently the top story for both the Middle-East and Europe. The interest and concern seems to have shifted from the civilian war in Syria, and the rise of ISIS, to the humanitarian concerns of those arriving at the shores and borders of European nations. And yet there are real dangers that are being neglected as the world is preoccupied with the crisis.
Germany has suspended the Dublin Regulation (which requires refugees to register at the first EU country of entry, and to return to it upon illegally crossing borders to another country,) late August as Hungary was overburdened by asylum applications. The suspension of the Dublin Regulation encouraged many to attempt traveling directly to German soil, at least 40% of which weren’t Syrian. At the current rate, Germany expects to receive 800,000 asylum applications by the end of 2015.
Throughout 2014 and early 2015 there was another major thread in the media, however, that, judging by the headlines, was disconcerting. “Europeans are flocking to the war in Syria. What happens when they come home?” asked the Washington Post in January 2014. “Europe braces for potential threat of returned Syrian war veterans” wrote Al Jazeera in July the same year.
Earlier this year Reuters wrote that according to the head of Europol “the continent was facing its greatest security threat in more than a decade, with as many as 5,000 Europeans who have joined fighting in Syria posing a risk to their homelands.”
A quick survey of the reputable news outlets shows that a growing number of Europeans had been “flocking” to Syria to partake in a gruesome conflict that claimed the lives of at least 220,000 and possibly up to 310,000, displaced an estimated 7.6 million, with almost four million refugees who fled to other countries. These fighters, if they survive their venture, will have gained training, exposure to extremist ideology, contacts into a global network, and battle-hardening. Upon their return to their unsuspecting homelands, they would have everything necessary to organize and undertake anything from recruiting and training to acts of extreme violence.
Things would have not been nearly as bad, had the conflict been among sworn enemies without ulterior motives elsewhere. Unfortunately, that is not the case. ISIS—the brutal group that has overtaken most of Syria, and parts of northern Iraq and Libya, destroying minority-villages and town, pillaging and raping women and preteen girls, and even selling them into slavery—have been openly hostile towards Europe and the West, with multiple journalist hostages, some savagely slain on camera. A document revealed in February of this year that they would use the Libyan ports currently under their control to “flood the north African state with militiamen from Syria and Iraq, who will then sail across the Mediterranean posing as migrants on people trafficking vessels,” according to the Telegraph. In hindsight, this should come as no surprise, considering the recruiting machine that ISIS employs to convert and recruit even those with unrelated heritage to their cause.
However, thanks to the overwhelming numbers already arriving in Europe and Germany’s open-door policy, the terrorist groups does not need to go to such length. As the world embraces to help those in need, as they escape to safety, ISIS gets a free pass, without checks, without questions; it only needs to send as many willing to cross the distance and pay the people-smugglers the right price, and many who have volunteered to fight and die would no doubt migrate to Europe. The fact that by far most of those crossing borders into Europe are young, single, males doesn’t make it easier, as that is the category that needs the most scrutiny (compared to families and children).
Presumably the concerns of Europol and other security services was that returning Europeans would pass through security with ease, thanks to their European passports. With the current situation, at least Syrians will get a priority to enter Europe, and many others who claim to have no documents, making it virtually trivial for countless extremists to cross the borders and go underground.
Did the European leaders forget about those threats of returning fighters that we’ve been reading about for at least the past 18 months? Is the barbarity of ISIS tamed by the generosity and hospitality of Europeans? And why has the media—presumably the force that keeps governments and politicians in check—gave up on asking the tough questions, such as how will known and potential terrorists be stopped before entry, while helping the refugees in need?
The political winds are changing in the wrong direction, something that will benefit the malignant extremists immediately, with far reaching long-term consequences that are hard to asses, let alone control. Meanwhile, the media seems to have given up on its primary job and, instead of demanding plans and regulations from policymakers that safeguards the lives of civilians and the security of the world, they are engaged in self-congratulatory frenzy on the collective generosity of Europe.
When the media returns to the question of Syrian fighters in Europe, will there be a chance to contain the danger, or will it be to report the uncovering of an attack, or worse?