In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, several news-outlets reported that one of the terrorists may have entered Europe as a refugee. This made global headlines, and will likely have fixed itself in the public memory despite the fact that all of the attackers so far identified were EU nationals. The media went with the story regardless, and the connection between the attacks and the refugee crisis cannot now be undone in any simple way.
Legally speaking, nobody enters Europe as a ‘refugee,’ and the application process for refugee status is incredibly lengthy and complicated. We should all be skeptical about the naked attempt from the political right to hijack public sentiment around the Paris attacks to make cheap political capital out of basic xenophobia.
While European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker asked EU countries not to confuse criminals with asylum seekers and refugees, politicians began publicly linking the migrant crisis to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. And this wasn’t limited to Rupert Murdoch’s incoherent twitter handle, or boneheads like Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz grandstanding in the United States. Marine Le Pen (from the extreme right National Front) said in a speech following the reports that one of the attackers arrived to Europe through Greece, that it was time for France to “take control of its borders” and return its “illegal” migrants to their countries. Polish minister for relations with other European nations, Konrad Szymanski, was also quick to announce that Poland was backing out of the EU’s quota system in order to “retain full control over its borders, asylum and immigration.”
It is important to recognize that these politicians are using the recent attacks to bolster their calls for keeping migrants out, and it is perhaps even more important to remember that these statements are coming from xenophobic right-wing parties who have long advocated a closed-door policy, and not solely for security reasons. Le Pen, for example, went as far as calling for a referendum on France pulling out of the EU, arguing that “the European Union is death: the death of our economy, our social welfare system and our identity.” The Paris attacks also took place three weeks before France’s regional elections and for Le Pen, this is a time to capitalize on xenophobic fears by using the words “migrant” and “terrorist” interchangeably.
It is essential to remember that issues of minority and refugee rights have long been pressing in Europe, and that the EU needed to conduct immigration reforms long before the attacks. Politicians were already deeply divided over how to handle the influx of migrants. It is therefore of no surprise that the recent attacks only serve to fuel right-wing populism.