Sunday

19th Jan 2020

Opinion

EU needs US-type refugee screening

One hundred and thirty. That’s how many deaths it has taken for European leaders to publically discuss the impact the migrant crisis is having on continental security.

Last weekend saw extremists open fire on civilians in the City of Lights. Bars, cafes and a concert hall were targeted. The ensuing carnage is the deadliest Europe has seen in more than a decade and the worst on French soil since the Second World War.

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Compounding this tragedy is confirmation from authorities that at least one of the attackers entered Europe posing as a migrant.

The backlash has been both swift and predictable. Poland’s new eurosceptic government suggested sending some migrants back to “liberate” their country. And Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front party called for the immediate expulsion of “illegal migrants who have nothing to do here.”

In response, many have cautioned against creating a link between the Paris attacks and the migrant crisis.

French president Francois Hollande reportedly asked his parliamentarians to not mix the two issues. European Union chief Jean-Claude Juncker went further, nothing that: “Those who organised, who perpetrated the attacks are the very same people who the refugees are fleeing and not the opposite.”

He also warned about giving into what he termed “base reactions.”

Juncker is of course right. But “base reactions,” or gut feelings, often trump reason when people perceive their safety to be at risk. Such is the case when many Europeans see how asylum seekers are screened at continental borders.

Sporadic background checks

In recent months, thousands of migrants have arrived on the Greek islands. Before they can continue their onward journey to the European mainland, they are registered; a process that involves presenting identification and providing fingerprints.

There are no interviews to determine intent and until last month, background checks were reportedly conducted sporadically.

Europe’s border agency focuses its limited resources on migrants’ “immediate care rather than screening or obtaining information on their basic characteristics such as nationality.”

For those seeking refuge within America’s borders, the process is strikingly different. Migrants must first undergo and pass multiple security screenings in order to be considered for relocation. Their biographic and biometric details are passed through the databases of national and international security agencies.

Trained personnel from the United Nations and the US government also interview each migrant on multiple occasions. These measures collectively work to distinguish between those seeking to commit violence from those fleeing from it.

Aspects of America’s asylum process have been criticised. For example, it can take up to two years before an applicant ever steps foot on American soil. During that time, he/she may languish in a migrant camp.

Moreover, officials have the power of discretionary denial. This means that even if a migrant passes all the requisite checks, the asylum claim can still be denied.

Yet if America’s process for screening migrants seems too restrictive, Europe’s is almost certainly too lax.

So lax in fact that it has been labeled a “vulnerability” by the continent’s own border agency.

Rectifying this requires governmental action. Measures must be introduced that, like in the United States, more carefully scrutinise those seeking entry into Europe, migrant or not.

Neglecting this alternative risks stoking right wing, populist, anti-migrant flames; flames that would surely signal the end of European integration.

Ashley Nunes studies population ageing, labor markets and technology policy at Universite Paris-Descartes. His work has appeared in the American Scientist, the Christian Science Monitor and The Hill

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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