[Khadija Othman] Post Paris Attacks: The Refugee Fallout


Post Paris Attacks: What has already happened?

Investigations into who the perpetrators of Friday’s attacks were have revealed that one of the attackers entered through Greece just last month posing as a refugee. This has raised significant questions and concerns over what to do and whether the attacks will affect the West’s commitment to the current refugee crisis. UNHCR estimates that over 2 million Syrians are arriving at the frontiers of Europe seeking asylum. When the crisis was first acknowledged, there were several reservations about the influx of refugees into Europe, all seemingly linked to the fear of Muslims and consequently terrorist attacks. There has been growing fear of Europe becoming more Muslim, or that refugees are just economic migrants searching for a better life, or that the refugees are largely from war torn countries (Smilov, 2015), surely terrorists will leak in. And since the attacks, several citizens and high level officials have been quoted saying that this is indeed a manifestation of all they had feared.

Immediate responses to this fear, have seen France tighten up its borders and embark on a bombing campaign in Syria, specifically in areas where ISIS has its strongest monopolies. Fellow EU countries, Germany and Poland simultaneously reacted; the former by calling for stronger EU & national border controls, the latter refusing to continue to accept refugees unless it could be guaranteed that the refugees will be ‘safe’ additions to Polish society. Other responses echoed the same concerns. While Slovakia’s prime minister, Robert Fico, noted that he hopes the EU would heed to his earlier warnings of the enormous security risks linked to the influx of refugees, Czech Republic president, Milos Zeman, and finance minister, Andrej Babis expressed the need to secure borders of Europe because the future of European civilization will increasingly be at stake (The Economist, 2015). Even Sweden, who has taken in the most amount of refugees seem to be moving toward more stringent border controls.

Friday’s attacks in Paris have borne the same discussions in the US. Although only 1,500 Syrian refugees have been accepted into the United States since 2011 (Fantz & Brumfield, 2015), and the Obama administration announced in September that 10,000 Syrians will be allowed entry next year. To date, however, governors of at least 30 (incl. Alabama, Texas, Mississippi, Michigan, Maryland, Illinois, and Florida) states have announced they will not accept Syrian refugees, under claims that ‘it is better to be safe than sorry’. While only 7 states have announced that they will still accept refugees (incl. Delaware, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington)

(Image source: CNN http://edition.cnn.com/2015/11/16/world/paris-attacks-syrian-refugees-backlash/index.html)

Although no Syrian refugees have been relocated to Alabama, for example, many US State governors were quick to express that they would not accept refugees because of fears that citizens would be put in harms way or America’s act of kindness could be exploited and expose them to dangers such as the Friday 13th attacks, and 9/11.

Echoes of these sentiments rang throughout the West. The consensus seems to be for revisions of policy towards the migrant crisis and as a result we can only expect a similar response in the domestic policies of many western countries; meaning a possible tensions or fragmentation between the countries that support refugees and those that are against it.

We can also expect that in those countries that will continue to support refugees, processes of relocation will be particularly scrutinized. Since the attacks, France 24 reported that even Nationals of Syrian decent were placed under house arrest. We can also expect that they be particularly scrutinized as potential security threats, this will materialize systematically as well as socially, as we see an increased fear and hatred toward Muslims, those of Arab descent and perhaps even those who visibly resemble the two. Lastly, we can be sure of that the number of refugees in Europe will dwindle, whilst the number of refugees will increase as a result of France’s bombing campaigns following the attacks. Even though according to UNHCR, out of the 11.8 million Syrians who have fled their homes during the current conflict, less than6 % are now in Europe (Al Jazeera, 2015).

Below is a list of speculated scenarios that the world could expect, as different countries respond to the attacks on 13 November, 2015.

Scenario 1 sees supposes a dramatic shift in many countries’ international Policy. As Europe closes, or tightens its laws and borders, we could see refugees kept in camps instead of relocating and integrating them into new countries. This is the case in Tanzania, for example, where refugees from Congo and Burundi are given asylum but only in camps, close to the border where they are contained, can be closely monitored and are provided sustenance by UNHCR, WFP and other humanitarian organizations.

Scenario 2, According to several news reports, one of the perpetrators Ismaël Omar Mostefaï had been on France’s terrorist watch list for radical Islamisation since 2010. This scenario foresees changes in domestic policy where there will be a push to assimilate refugees and engage Muslims and those on terrorist watch list so as to prevent radicalisation. This is the case in the UK as per David Cameron’s campaign for de-radicalisation, which adopts four ways to address the issues of radicalization as a protection from terrorist attacks. The de-radicalisation program urges focus on those who may feel isolated in their communities because of their religion; it urges the de-glamorisation of ISIS as the epitome of the perfect world for the isolated unwanted British Muslim; it urges tackling extremists; and encouraging the understanding and acceptance of Muslims in British communities. This scenario anticipates countries such as Sweden, who are more open to pluralism, attempting this de-radicalisation approach.

Lastly, this scenario anticipates that Paris will remain one of the most-visited cities in the world, though the effect of the Charlie Hebdo & Friday 13th massacres will see tourism decrease significantly in the next few months. Similarly, security at popular destinations, such as Disneyland and the monumental Eiffel Tower which shut off its lights for the first time since the 19th century in memory of the victims of the attacks, will likely to be stepped up further (Calder, 2015).

Scenario 3 considers whether future terrorist attacks are returning or home-grown. In light of these considerations, this scenario sees travel to Syria prohibited, or those going to Syria not be allowed back. Investigations into the perpetrators of Friday’s attacks found that one of them, Ismaël Omar Mostefaï, apparently spent several months in Syria during the 2013-14 winter, according to French newspaper Le Monde (Steinbuch 2015, NY Post). This means that as we have seen flights to Russia ban Egypt Air flights after the recent crash was declared a terrorist attack, we can expect more security on migration, airport and aviation security in Europe in order to keep constant surveillance on the potential threats.  Further, as we see France seek to extend its state of emergency by three months, we can expect that more raids and operations take place as France seeks to crack down on and foil any other attacks by returning or home-grown terrorists.

Scenario 4 sees refugees seek refuge in countries with less strict regulations, which could lead to a series of other developments

  • A, If ISIS members do make it into other countries as refugees, this could lead to a string of attacks in Asia and Africa or the growth of ISIS-allegiance groups
  • B, This could make African and Asian countries tighten up their borders with the support of western countries
  • C, We could see the West put pressure on Arab countries to take refugees or more attempts at resolving Syrian war

Ultimately the win-win situation that would ensure that progressive and conservative countries feel appeased is scenario 2 – to assimilate individuals into societies. This solution would guarantee that whether home-grown or returning, potential attackers are engaged; making prediction of any attacks easier, and preventing the activation of ISIS nodes upon their return. However, without the ability to ensure that refugees are ‘safe’ additions to society, it is least likely that this scenario will happen and it is almost certain that refugees will have a harder time resettling.


  1. Aljazeera.com, (2015). Reality check: Number of displaced Syrians in Europe. [online]Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2015/11/reality-check-number-displaced-syrians-europe-151115134616254.html [Accessed 19 Nov. 2015].
  2. Calder, S. (2015). How will the Paris terror attacks affect travel to the capital?. [online]The Independent. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/paris-travel-qa-how-will-terror-attacks-affect-travel-and-tourism-a6734411.html [Accessed 19 Nov. 2015].
  3. Fantz, A. and Brumfield, B. (2015). Syrian refugees not welcome in 31 U.S. states. [online]CNN. Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/11/16/world/paris-attacks-syrian-refugees-backlash/index.html [Accessed 19 Nov. 2015].
  4. Smilov, D. (2015). The argument against compassion: Europe and the refugees. [online]openDemocracy. Available at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/daniel-smilov/argument-against-compassion-europe-and-refugees [Accessed 19 Nov. 2015].
  5. Steinbuch, Y. (2015). A ‘refugee’ in killers’ ranks: Terrorist linked to Syrian refugee route. [online]New York Post. Available at: http://nypost.com/2015/11/15/two-syrian-refugees-among-seven-terrorists-in-paris-attacks/ [Accessed 19 Nov. 2015].
  6. The Economist, (2015). Europe’s response to the Paris attacks is different this time. [online]Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21678514-je-suis-charlie-was-about-free-speech-time-issue-migrants-europe-sees-paris-attacks [Accessed 19 Nov. 2015].

About the author: Khadija Othman is currently reading her Masters in Social Development in University of Sussex. 

Featured image: Independent (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/paris-attacks-syrian-refugees-put-shootings-in-french-capital-in-perspective-a6736361.html)


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