Juncker defends refugee plan despite Paris attacks
Syrian refugees brace for backlash
ANTALYA, Turkey: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker firmly defended yesterday the EU’s hotly-contested plan to redistribute refugees across Europe despite calls by Poland to scrap the scheme after the deadly attacks in Paris.
The EU’s eastern-most members have been furious over the redistribution plan agreed in October, calling instead for a stronger EU outer-border, but Juncker warned against using the tragedy in Paris as means to roll it back.
“I would like to invite those in Europe who are trying to change the migration agenda we have adopted... to be serious about this and not to give in to these basic reactions. I don’t like it,” Juncker told reporters on the sidelines of the G20 leaders’meeting in Antalya, Turkey.
The fresh criticism of the plan emerged after officials in Greece said a Syrian passport found at the scene of the mass shooting in a Paris concert hall belonged to an asylum seeker who registered on a Greek island in October. Greek police did not rule out that the passport had changed hands before the attacks. Poland’s incoming European Affairs Minister Konrad Szymanski led the charge against the EU saying that Warsaw no longer considered the plan as a “political possibility” in the light of the Paris attacks.
But Juncker said that “those who organised, who perpetrated the attacks are the very same people who the refugees are fleeing and not the opposite.”“And so there is no need for an overall review of the European policy on refugees,” Juncker said. The policy is also staunchly defended by Germany, which urged against any over-reaction after the events in Paris, as it deals with consequences of absorbing an expected one million asylum seekers this year.
“I would like to make this urgent plea to avoid drawing such swift links to the situation surrounding refugees,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in Germany on Saturday. Carefully shielding a lit candle against the cold pouring rain, Syrian refugee Ghaled, 22, had come to the French embassy in Berlin to pay tribute to victims of the Paris attacks.
“We are with them right now, just to help them with this crisis. What’s happening to them is happening every day in Syria, 100 times per day for five years, so we know what that means,” he told AFP. Ghaled was a student in dentistry in Damascus, but decided to leave the Syrian capital after seeing no end to the violence engulfing his homeland. Like tens of thousands of his fellow countrymen, he first risked his life crossing the Mediterranean in an inflatable boat, before trekking for 17 days to get to Germany five months ago.
But just as he began looking forward to rebuilding his life with German language classes which he hopes would help him return to dentistry school one day, Friday’s attacks that killed 129 people in Paris have raised fears of a backlash in Europe. French police’s discovery of a Syrian passport near the body of one attacker in particular has sparked concerns that some of the assailants might have entered Europe as part of the huge influx of people fleeing Syria’s civil war.
“It’s a problem,” said Ghaled, who urged against victimizing his countrymen, saying the attackers “are not Syrians” and that the passport link was simply makebelieve.
“I think it’s a big lie because all the area is destroyed, and just the passport is still ok? That’s silly, really silly,” he said, suggesting that the passport was either fake or had been planted “because they hate refugees... so many people hate Syrians”. Another Syrian refugee, William, 24, who had also arrived in Germany five months ago, was equally anxious. “Many news speak about Syrians, police find Syrian passport. Of course I’m worried. It’s not good,” said the 24-year-old tourism student from the northern town of Hama.
“Syrians are not terrorists. we need life and peace for work,” he said, adding that he wanted to return home once the war is over. Mouhanad Dawood, who had reached the EU through Italy before eventually seeking asylum in Germany 11 months ago, said his host country has been“very welcoming”.
“People here understand not everyone are terrorists, a lot of people are running from terrorists, especially from IS,”said the trained architect.
But he conceded that he was “a little bit” afraid that attitudes could change. “I have my family here now, I want to start my life here.” To those who have doubts about Syrians after the French attacks, Dawood said: “A terrorist is a terrorist. It doesn’t matter where they come from.” In Germany, where a debate had already been raging before Paris attacks over the influx of asylum seekers expected to top a million this year, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere came out quickly to counter any attempt at drawing a link between terrorists and migrants.
“I would like to make this urgent plea to avoid drawing such swift links to the situation surrounding refugees,”de Maiziere said on Saturday following a crisis cabinet meeting. He said authorities would watch farright extremists closely, noting there have already been in recent months “appalling scales of attacks against asylum seekers and asylum seeker shelters”. Yesterday, the interior minister confirmed that security would be stepped up at asylum seeker shelters.
‘Bombs falling like rain’
The anxiety was also palpable on social media among asylum seekers in Europe.
“Will yesterday night’s attacks in Paris affect our lives as refugees?” asked one user on “Bus Stop for the Lost Ones”, a Facebook page that is extremely popular among Arabic-speaking migrants taking the Balkan route to Europe.“Of course,”replies another member.
“Curse the guy who blew himself up... Did he have to take his passport with him? He should have put it away somewhere and gone to hell,” wrote Jalal Abazid on Facebook, a Syrian refugee in Germany. — AFP
PARIS: A French police officer patrols at the Sacre Coeur basilica in Paris yesterday. — AP
PARIS: Imam of one of the Nimes Mosque, Hocine Drouiche (2nd R), French author Marek Halter (L), Imam of the Drancy Mosque, Hassene Chalghoumi (C) and representative of the Jewish community gather at a makeshift memorial near the Bataclan concert hall in Paris yesterday. — AFP