Anadolu Agency / AP

Paris attacks muddle EU response to refugee crisis

European leaders link assaults to influx of refugees from the Middle East, call for closed borders

As France staggers from the deadliest attacks on it territory since World War II, several European leaders are openly questioning the region’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis and calling for EU countries to close their borders.

Leaders in France, Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany responded quickly over the weekend by linking the Paris attacks to the influx of refugees from the Middle East. Some leaders called for an end to the Schengen Agreement, which has enabled passport-free movement across most of the 28-member European Union since the mid-1980s.

Although details remain sketchy, it appears that at least one Paris attacker recently posed as a Syrian refugee. A Syrian passport was found near the body of an attacker who targeted Stade de France, the country’s national stadium, Friday night. Greek officials confirmed on Saturday that a man carrying that passport crossed its borders in October with a group of 69 refugees and later applied for asylum in Serbia.

Just hours after Friday’s attacks, Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front party, called on the government to ban “Islamist” groups and close radical mosques. Political experts have said that the National Front, which governs municipalities with an anti-immigrant bent, stands to benefit most from regional elections scheduled for December. On Monday she reiterated her stance, telling media that France should “immediately end all reception of migrants.”

Those calls have echoed through Europe.

In Germany, which is expected to receive an estimated 1 million refugees by the end of this year, Friday’s attacks have sparked a round of criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who perhaps more than any other European leader has called for EU acceptance of those fleeing war in Syria.

“Paris changed everything,” Markus Söder, a politician with the conservative Christian Social Union party, said Sunday. “This is no time for uncontrolled immigration. Not every refugee is an Islamic State terrorist,” he said, referring to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks.

“But to believe that there is not a single fighter among the refugees is naive,” he said.

On Monday, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico echoed Soeder’s statements — and those of leaders in Latvia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — saying Muslims in his country pose a potential threat.

“With the exception of Norway’s [Anders Behring] Breivik mass shooting, virtually every time there has been a terrorist attack, representatives of the Muslims were responsible. Therefore if we have these people staying in Slovakia, legally it’s our duty to verify whether they have contacts with problematic persons,” Fico told reporters.

His comments follow statements made Saturday by Poland’s government, which said it will no longer participate in the EU’s resettlement program for hundreds of thousands of refugees. Poland previously agreed to take in some 5,000 of the estimated 800,000 refugees who have arrived in Europe this year.

In light of Friday’s attacks in Paris, Poland’s European affairs minister, Konrad Szymanski, said his country no longer considers the plan to accept refugees a “political possibility.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Sunday called for calm and urged a more tempered response to the Paris attacks. As Brussels prepares to host a special gathering of EU interior ministers on Friday in response to the assaults, he said that “there is no need for an overall review of the European policy on refugees.”

On Monday on the sidelines of the Group of 20 industrial and developing countries summit in Antalya, Turkey, he again warned against a rash reaction to Friday’s attacks. The EU’s refugee asylum policy should not change, he said.

“Those who organized these attacks and those that perpetrated them are exactly those that the refugees are fleeing and not the opposite,” Juncker said. 

With Agence France-Presse

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