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Refugees fear backlash as Europe reels from Paris attacks

Calls for tough response and tighter border controls after carnage in French capital

SLAVONSKI BROD, Croatia — As he waited with hundreds of other refugees to move deeper into Europe, Farid’s face twisted at the mention of Friday’s massacre in Paris.

“This is why we left our home, because of these killers,” he said, after gun and bomb attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people and injured several hundred others, for which the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS and Daesh) claimed responsibility.

“Daesh must be destroyed, wherever it is,” declared Farid, a refugee from Syria.

Recounting a perilous voyage from Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria to this transit camp at Slavonski Brod in Croatia, where trains and buses take refugees on to Slovenia, Farid urged Europe to unite against ISIL — and to keep its doors open to refugees.

“Daesh is destroying Syria, Iraq, everywhere there. We have no home because of Daesh,” said Farid, who like many other refugees declined to give his surname because of security fears for relatives still living in Syria.

“Now in Europe too, it destroys,” he added. “But Europe is strong. It must kill Daesh.”

As thousands of asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East continue to head north through the Balkans, calls for a much tougher refugee policy are growing louder across Europe.

The Paris attacks ramped up security fears sparked by the arrival of more than 800,000 refugees to the EU so far this year, particularly after what appeared to be a Syrian passport was discovered near the body of one suspect, who was found to have registered as an asylum seeker in Greece and transited the Balkans on his way to France.

“The attacks mean the necessity of an even deeper revision of the European policy toward the refugee crisis,” said Konrad Szymanski, who is due to become Poland’s European affairs minister on Monday when a new right-wing government takes power in Warsaw.

“We’ll accept [refugees only] if we have security guarantees. This is a key condition, and today a question mark has been put next to it all around Europe,” he added.

The incoming Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, also indicated that Warsaw's new government would join its neighbors in opposing mass immigration.

“We have to be aware that we were wrong, too naive and idealistic … We should be guided by doctrines not of cultural equality or sheer economy. There is a safety criterion that should dominate,” he said.

The bloodshed cast more doubt on German-led plans to relocate refugees in EU member states according to quotas as part of a scheme that several Central European states strongly oppose.

“We have been saying that there are enormous security risks linked to migration. Hopefully, some people will open their eyes now,” said Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Czech President Milos Zeman outraged many recently by claiming that Muslim refugees would apply Sharia — making women cover their faces, stoning women who were unfaithful and cutting the hands off thieves.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has called the arrival of an expected 1 million refugees in Europe this year a threat to its traditional Christian traditions and values, and he has built fences on his country’s borders to keep refugees out.

He ordered the deployment of troops in central Budapest after the Paris attacks, canceled his party’s congress and discussed the possible postponement of a major soccer match in the Hungarian capital, in what opponents called a cynical bid to fuel public fear over the security risks of the refugee crisis.

“The Orban government is acting as if the terrorist attack occurred in Budapest. Just like in Paris, soldiers were ordered into the capital, where they are patrolling downtown streets with machine guns at the ready,” said Eva Balogh, whose prominent blog regularly criticizes Orban’s populist government.

“Which suggests that Viktor Orban is making as much political hay out of the tragedy in Paris as he possibly can. Not that the Hungarian public needs more incitement against the refugees. At the same time, Orban had to admit that there is no data suggesting any direct threat to Hungary,” she added.

The attacks also hardened positions on the refugee crisis farther west.

“The days of uncontrolled immigration and illegal entry can’t continue just like that. Paris changes everything,” said Markus Söder, the finance minister of Bavaria, the state where most asylum seekers arrive in Germany.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the EU Commission, urged “those in Europe who try to change the migration agenda we have adopted … to be serious about this and not to give in to these basic reactions that I do not like.”

“We should not mix the different categories of people coming to Europe,” he insisted. “The one responsible for the attacks in Paris … is a criminal and not a refugee.”

In Croatia’s Slavonski Brod camp, however, refugees feared that great damage has already been done to their hopes of finding sanctuary in Europe.

“These terrorists make people in Europe scared of us. They make them hate us,” said Hashem from Aleppo in northern Syria. “We come here to be safe, to study, to work, but these people make things bad for all Syrians, all Muslims. We are all running from terrorists, and now they are here too.”

Greece, Serbia and Croatia said a suspect in the Paris attacks registered as an asylum seeker with their authorities in early October. He used what appeared to be a Syrian passport, but its authenticity has not been confirmed, and there is a brisk trade in fake travel documents in Turkey.

The Balkans are also in the spotlight after the arrest on Nov. 5 in Germany of a Montenegrin man who police found to have eight assault rifles, three handguns and explosives in his car as well as a Paris address in its navigational system.

The suspect said he “wanted to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris and then return home” and had “no knowledge of arms and explosives” in his car, the AFP news agency quoted German police as saying.

“We want to talk [about the Paris attacks] with him, but he doesn’t want to talk,” a police spokesman told the agency.

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