A heated debate has emerged regarding the Syrian refugee crisis and security in Europe and the rest of the Western world. It was found that at least one of the Paris attackers was found to have come with a wave of refugees from Syria or another country outside of the EU in October 2015. With the mass migration of Syrians and other refugees to Europe, the monitoring and identifying of refugee claimants has been overwhelmed or simply ignored. The security risk was always present even before direct threats from terrorist groups, but with the latest attacks in Paris, there has to be accountability by governments to monitor who they allow into their countries.
After the recent attack, the two month old policy put forth by the new Canadian government to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees before Christmas 2015 was said to continue, despite new security concerns. Critics of the plan cite security reasons, referring to the incident in France as a realistic scenario. Additional concerns are the short time frame to monitor and register the refugees. Despite the fact that all the refugees to be taken are already located in safe countries, the commitment seems to give little benefit with many costs. Despite the new minister of Public Safety assuring Canadians that there will be no major security concerns, the approach the new government has taken seems to neglect some appropriate criticisms of the plan.
The acceptance of refugees should account for some factors that may have been ignored in the European example. Most, if not all of the refugees that are being accepted by European countries as well as the Canada 25,000 are already located in safe countries. While they are legally defined as refugees in those countries, the obligation for 3rd party countries to take in refugees from the host countries is not a matter of direct urgency. It would help Syria’s refugees if Western nations would take those directly from Syria who are in immediate danger. This does not mean that relieving Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon of the overwhelming amount of refugees is not a priority, but help should be given to those who are in immediate danger first.
Such groups inside or outside of Syria should be considered as those at greatest risk of threat, notably children, women, disabled and elderly people. Ethnic and religious minorities in the region that are the subject of repression by both sides of the conflict should be given special consideration as host countries may not treat them equally due to historical prejudices. Ethnic and religious minorities have their problems compounded as they may not have a safe place to go even if they are able to get out of Syria and Iraq. They are the ones who are directly affected by ISIS, and should be focused on if the refugee policy claimed by the EU and Western nations is one that claims to directly protect those refugees fleeing ISIS.
I have discussed the issue of the refugee crisis with friends from Syria, and tackling any issues there must consider the reality that there are thousands of different interest groups fighting to take over the government in Syria. Many of the refugees in Jordan came from escaping conflict with the government, and were in Jordan before ISIS became a major player in the conflict. The assumption that all refugees from Syria were created by fleeing from ISIS ignores the reality and factionalism that has fueled the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015.
As a touchstone of experience in the matter, I used to work defending the rights of refugee claimants in Canada directly, including many Syrians and Iraqis. During a normal period of refugee re-settlement, our efforts in Toronto, Canada with a normal level of staff found it difficult to keep up with the number of claimants at the time. To bring in 25,000 in a period of a month and a half in the middle of a Canadian winter is simply irresponsible. We also would never have an individual inserted into Canadian society without ensuring their identity. Rarely we would fail in this objective, as even in countries with conflicts taking place, there are always ways to find identity documents for individuals. In the event we could not prove their identity for release, they would remain in a detention facility until their identity documents were obtained, or they were sent to a hearing where the merits of their case and situation in their country of origin were measured.
It was well known that identifying someone was the only way to have them gain access to the general society, and it was a fair and responsible process that took time, skill and trained individuals to accomplish. This was, and should be the bare minimum a government owes to the people who elected them. While it is not a guarantee that such a process did not take place in France, nor could have stopped an attack, assuming responsibility for safety and security is an obligation no government should be allowed to disengage themselves from at any point for any reason. This is to the benefit of the general public, refugee claimants and those vulnerable groups that find they no longer have a place for a peaceful life in their traditional lands.