Shunning refugees is no answer to terror

Editor’s Note: Karen Jacobsen is associate professor of research at The Fletcher School at Tufts University and the acting director of the Feinstein International Center (Friedman School of Nutrition), where she also directs the Refugees and Forced Migration Program. The views expressed are her own.

Story highlights

Karen Jacobsen: News that attacker in Paris may have come in on wave of refugees may make countries less willing to accept them

Wrong reaction, she says: Refugees will come; what's needed is a global response, and support by U.S., EU for countries that step up

CNN  — 

It now seems possible that at least one of the terrorists in the Paris attack on Friday entered the European Union hidden among the wave of refugees arriving on European shores.

Even if this turns out not to be so, the fear that terrorists are hiding amongst refugees will increase and will be used by anti-immigrant politicians.

That refugee or migrant movements might include terrorists has always been a threat and a worry to countries of immigration. It is part of the risk of welcoming strangers, just as we all take calculated risks when we allow people we don’t know well into our homes.

How will the presence of terrorists among the refugees – real or now increasingly feared – affect the willingness of Europeans to welcome refugees?

Many who before Friday were willing to allow refugees into their countries and to help them will be given pause. Anti-immigrant movements and politicians such as Marine Le Pen in France and Donald Trump in the United States will seize the opportunity to create momentum against immigration and block border entry.

Is this the solution?

Even before Friday, European countries that were previously welcoming, such as Sweden and Germany, were pulling back. But sealing borders with razor wire and having police on trains requesting papers are the kinds of images Europeans will surely shrink from, given their history – and such actions will not prevent desperate refugees from finding ways to enter Europe.

Nor can the United States and the rest of the world stand by and watch while ratcheting up their anti-immigrant rhetoric. The United States and Europe must work together to find reasonable ways to manage the current refugee flow into Europe and to utilize more creative and effective intelligence to monitor terrorist plans.

The fact is Europe will not be able to quickly and easily absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees, and open-door policies that create impetus for migrants to leave their countries will lead to more desperate journeys and deaths at sea, especially now the winter storm season is coming upon us.

This is why now is the moment for a truly global effort to address the refugee crisis, a movement not necessarily led by Europe and the United States but one that still should be well supported by them.

First, it is essential to direct that support to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, as spillover from the conflict in Syria and Iraq overwhelms them, both in terms of their hosting more than 4 million refugees and in dealing with bomb attacks. This past week, Lebanon also experienced a horrific bomb attack by ISIS, when 43 people were killed in Beirut, with much less of a global outpouring of sympathy.