Terrorism and immigration: changing the focus

The year 2015 will undoubtedly be marked in the calendar and in our collective imagination as one of the most dramatic years experienced in recent times. On one hand, Europe had to face the biggest migration crisis suffered since the Second World War, which ended up questioning not only its management capacity but also the political will of the Member States when complying with the established quotas, which were mandatory. Whereas on the other hand, Europe has also suffered the jihadist threat that shook the continent, and that reached the highest number of terrorist attacks recorded in our territory in recent years: 211 in total (completed, failed and frustrated), which left the high figure of 151 dead and 360 injured. The overlap in time of these two tragic circumstances resulted in a clear sense of correlation between both by some parts of society. Eurojust, the judicial cooperation agency of the European Union, was alarmed when its president – Michèle Coninsx – affirmed that in spite of not having concrete figures, important cases of infiltration of terrorists were occurring though migratory flows that were reaching the continent during the refugee crisis. Since then, this feeling has not diminished. In fact, it has risen.

What is happening now? Today’s European political landscape has a considerable number of parties with a narrative that has assumed the electoral discourse of rejection of immigration and everything that moves away from national identity. This reveals a fragmented and fearful Europe in the face of this “permeability”, which subsequently has resulted in the adoption of “securitizing” measures and actions. This term, coined by Ole Weaver among other authors, points out the process by which certain issues such as immigration, in this case, are now considered a thread and included in the national and international agenda within the so-called “issues of security”. Therefore, there is a clear risk when social problems and fears begin to be blamed on certain actors who are accused of altering the established order.

In this context, the danger is embodied in the subjects that cross the borders and become visible in policies such as the closure of the same, the hot returns or the indeterminate prolongation in time of the emergency states, which in recurrent occasions exceeds the limits of human rights. However, it is perhaps necessary at this point to remember that the number of attacks perpetrated by immigrants infiltrated in Europe is minimal compared to those committed by nationals of the Member States – second or third generations of immigrants – which means that those who were born and/or grown on this continent, as indicated by the reports – EU Terrorism Situation & Trend Reports (TESAT) – issued to date by the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (EUROPOL).

A clear, effective, common, and decisive security policy is necessary. However, immigration laws should not be restricted and used as anti-terrorist tools. Numerous international organizations – such as Human Rights Watch – have shown their concern and have pointed out the importance of finding a balance between the implementation of measures that guarantee the security of the states and, at the same time, respect the rights of those migrants who no longer enjoy protection in their respective countries of origin.

The focus has to be on how to tackle and especially prevent the processes of radicalization that are taking place within our borders. It is convenient, therefore, to point out: the threat is not immigration yet, rather jihadism. In order to achieve satisfactory objectives, the political leaders of the European Union (EU) must improve their coordination and develop a common legislation on borders and immigration that suits the new situation. On the other hand, the EU also has to establish guidelines for a clear and comprehensive program of integration actions, which promote the strengthening of education, dialogue and empowerment of young people who are in situations of vulnerability, as well as an exhaustive evaluation of the results that is translated into effective legislation.

Author: Elena Niño, European Master’s Program in Human Rights and Democratization (EUIC, Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratization)

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Responsibility for the information and views set out in this publication lies entirely with the author.