Welcome to Britain, for good and bad
fuelled shifts in UK foreign policy in a profound way. The apparent powerlessness of the international community to act in Rwanda and Bosnia led Tony Blair, among others, to throw their support behind the concept of humanitarian intervention, tested first in Kosovo in 1999.
The Bosnian conflict also had its effect on domestic asylum policy. One of the most successful schemes to settle refugees in this country was set up for Bosnians in 1993 by the Refugee Council and the Red Cross, who helped settle 1,000 men and their families in reception centres around the country.
Empathy can soon turn to fear in the face of the international terrorist threat. When it emerged that a Syrian passport in the name of Ahmad Almohammad was found next to a suicide bomber at the Stade de France, the narrative of the attacks on Paris began to shift. Could it be that the refugee crisis in Syria had been used by the terrorists to infiltrate Europe with jihadis? We still do not know the answer.
Although the self-appointed Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the perpetrators appear to have been mainly French and Belgian nationals, home-grown recruits to the totalitarian Islamist ideology.
And yet, the British government was forced to issue a statement over the weekend assuring people about the vaguely Muslim or North African were liable to random identity checks at Metro stations across the capital.
The consequences of the attacks on France 20 years ago are still being felt here in the UK. Many of those suspected of involvement found refuge in Britain, including the prime suspect of the Paris bombings, Rachid Ramda.
The French authorities were astonished that Britain was prepared to welcome Algerian Islamist figures as dissidents, when they saw them as plain and simple terrorists. London had already become a hub for the Islamist opposition diaspora and the French intelligence services coined the phrase “Londonistan” for the phenomenon.
A string of extremists from around the world was tolerated by the authorities in the mistaken belief that it made Britain safe from attack.
Political Islamists were genuinely under threat from the oppressive regimes from which they came, but a number of them used their status as refugees to preach jihad to British youth. Omar Bakri Mohammed from Lebanon, Abu Hamza from Egypt and Abu Qatada from Jordan became recruiting sergeants for the international war against the West.
Britain takes great pride in its history of giving shelter to those fleeing persecution. But no one imagined that the international asylum system, established after World War II in a direct response to the Holocaust, would one day be used to give safe harbour to those who shared the totalitarian, antisemitic values of the Nazis.
But then nor had anyone thought there could be such a thing as a rightwing extremist dissident or a fascist refugee.
There have already been the inevitable calls to crack down on asylum seekers from the Middle East in response to the Paris attacks and the government will come under pressure to reassess the Syrian Vulnerable Person’s Programme in light of events.
But the 1951 Convention on Refugees is a celebration of shared enlightenment values and it would be a tragedy multiplied if our empathy for the suffering of the Syrian people also lay dead on the floor of the Bataclan.
Syrian refugees arriving in Glasgow this week. They are the first batch of 20,000 to be resettled in the UK by 2020
Given refuge: Basque children fleeing the Spanish Civil War in 1937 ( top Jewish Kindertransport refugees ( and Islamist clerics
Omar Bakri Mohammed, Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada
left), ( above left to right)