Europe anti-refugee rhetoric swells after Paris attacks

Far-right politicians call for borders to be sealed in wake of Paris assaults amid growing fears for refugees’ plight.

In the days after a wave of deadly attacks killed at least 129 people in Paris, a number of European politicians have seized the opportunity to warn against accepting any more people fleeing from war and persecution in Muslim-majority countries.

The warnings have added to fears that the plight of refugees would worsen after reports that one of the Paris attackers was carrying a Syrian passport – a connection that has not yet been proven.

Quickest to react to the events in Paris, in terms of attempting to stop the flow of refugees, was Poland.

Less than 24 hours after suicide bombs and gun attacks rocked the French capital, Poland’s incoming European affairs minister, the Eurosceptic Konrad Szymanskic, told the website that the country would pull back from an EU-wide quota commitment to relocate refugees across the continent.

“In the wake of the tragic events in Paris, Poland doesn’t see the political possibilities to implement a decision on the relocation of refugees,” he said. “The attacks mean there’s a need for an even deeper revision of the European policy regarding the migrant crisis.”

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While Lebanon and Turkey host the largest number of Syrian refugees, an estimated 500,000 refugees escaping the Syrian conflict – more than half of them women and children – have arrived in Europe this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.  

Those numbers are thought to be conservative estimates, as many cross the border undetected.

In October alone, the United Nations said 218,000 refugees crossed the Mediterranean to Europe – a monthly record.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday said “terrorists” had taken advantage of the crisis to enter Europe.

“In a deliberate and organised way, terrorists have exploited mass migration by mingling in the mass of people leaving their homes in the hope of a better life,” Orban told lawmakers in an address titled “Attack on Europe”.

Far-right’s warnings

Populist far-right groups have for months stoked fears that amid these hundreds of thousands of refugees are people planning attacks on the continent.

In France, Marine le Pen, head of Le Front National, tweeted on Monday: “Islamic fundamentalism must be annihilated, radical mosques must be closed and radical imams must be expelled,” and later demanded an “immediate halt of all intake of migrants in France”.

 Europe’s far-right agenda goes mainstream

In Britain, Nigel Farage, leader of the far-right, Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) – which 3.8 million Britons voted for in the 2015 general election – said on Monday the EU was “seriously imperiling our security” as he called for the European border-free zone to be scrapped.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, head of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, currently winning opinion polls, called on the country’s prime minister to close the borders.

And in Belgium, Filip Dewinter, a leading politician in the Flemish secessionist Vlaams Belang party, called on his 12,800 Twitter followers to join a group titled: “Closing our borders is the only answer to infiltration by immigrants and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL].”

“The Paris attacks are likely to underscore issues that play to the radical right agenda – national security, identity and public anxieties over the immigration crisis,” Matthew Goodwin, professor of politics at the University of Kent and a visiting fellow at Chatham House, told Al Jazeera.

“In terms of European radical right parties, I would argue that they had already been experiencing an upsurge of support since the beginning of 2015 and amid the refugee crisis.

“I think there will be increasing moves to erect borders, to tighten external borders, to openly criticise the existence of the Schengen, and free movement of EU workers across national borders.

“There will be a more conservative position with regard to how Europe navigates its security.”

Increased xenophobia 

Many also fear increased xenophobia across the continent, with some failing to distinguish between those belonging to an armed group such as ISIL and ordinary asylum seekers who are often themselves trying to escape such groups.

“I think it’s going to be harder to be an immigrant and to be a foreigner in Europe,” Eve Shahshahani, head of asylum for Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, told Al Jazeera.

“The extreme right in France and in Europe will seize the opportunity, and it’s not a new argument. But the confusion they kind of emphasise is very dangerous; from terrorist you slide into Muslim and from Muslim to Arab and from Arab to migrant.”

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The war in Syria is currently the world’s single-largest driver of displacement, and in the EU, the biggest volume of asylum applications is in Germany and Sweden, the UNHCR said in June.

Bruno Tertrais, senior research fellow at the Foundation for Strategic Research, said: “What I fear is that there will be irrational demands for completely closing down immigration flows, especially from Syria.”

And looking ahead, it is not only sentiment but also policy that could likely be affected if the far right perform as well as some opinion polls suggest in the Netherlands, Sweden, France and Austria.

“The far right will benefit electorally by what we’ve seen over the weekend – it’s a receptive climate,” said Goodwin, from the University of Kent.

Follow Anealla Safdar on Twitter: @anealla

Source: Al Jazeera