Looking at the notes I made while reporting from Eastern Europe last month, it’s striking how inevitable an event like Friday’s Paris massacres seemed to those on the ground. Top officials and intellectuals in Hungary and Austria described a situation fast growing out of control.
An interview with Zoltán Kovács, a spokesperson for the Hungarian government, seems especially prophetic. “Common sense says there’s a danger with uncontrolled migration,” he told me. “One or two people can do horrible things.”
One such person, we learned Monday, traveled under a fake Syrian passport made out to Ahmad Almouhammad. French authorities found the passport near a terrorist’s body in the aftermath of Friday’s carnage.
Various European governments have pieced together the route “Almouhammad” took. We know he entered Europe through Greece on Oct. 3, and popped up a few days later in Prešovo in Southern Serbia. Uncannily, on the same day Kovács and I discussed the security risks created by uncontrolled migration, he checked in at Opatovac refugee camp in Eastern Croatia, which I would visit just four days later.
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“Statistically, it’s impossible there are no trouble-makers among them,” Kovács told me, a phrase that came to mind later in the trip, as I visited the border between Hungary and Serbia. The sad fact is that a small percentage of a big number is still a big number. And the sheer number of people crossing the border was overwhelming.
It’s one thing to toss around statistics — noting, for instance, that Europe is in the midst of its largest population shift since World War II, and as many as 8,000 migrants have crossed key borders in a single day. It’s another thing entirely to watch them make the journey, pulling up in trains and buses and walking on foot, an unending line of people, with more on the way.
Making matters worse, the authorities at no border seemed wholly confident that they knew who all of the newcomers were. I watched Europe’s overwhelmed border guards try to fingerprint, photograph, register, and record each fresh arrival.
It’s no simple task. Many of the refugees and migrants lack proper documentation — some, no doubt, for good reasons and others, perhaps, for sinister ones. Forged passports and other identifying documents abound. People commonly lie about their country of origin.
The border guards in Hungary and Serbia looked to be doing their best, despite the obvious challenges. They’d partnered with dozens of translators, dividing masses of newcomers into smaller, more manageable groups to ensure a smooth crossing. To their credit, at both locations, I saw border officials treat refugees with incredible kindness and dignity.
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In Opatovac — where, remember, reports indicate one of the Paris terrorists crossed — the situation was less transparent. Though I’d e-mailed the press office before my visit, upon arrival, Croatian border guards angrily refused to allow me access beyond a cordoned area where it was impossible to observe much. One particularly hostile border guard interrupted my interview with a pair of refugees, driving them off and forbidding others to talk to me.
So I have no firsthand knowledge about the security there. Volunteers told me of meeting Christian refugees and holding prayer meetings in Opatovac. One described how excited little children were to play with bubbles. But they also told me of a woman who had stumbled in the mud near the Serbia-Croatia border, and how her husband pulled a knife on the male volunteer who dared make physical contact with her when he rushed to help her up.
#share#Of course, it would be inaccurate to suggest that most of Europe’s newcomers are a threat. I would sleep soundly welcoming the vast majority of those I interviewed into my home. Some were Christians, and many more were moderate Muslims who had already experienced in their own hometowns the terror we saw in Paris Friday night. These refugees fled the same Islamic State jihadists that now appear to be following them west.
These same innocents were also, less obviously, the Islamic State’s targets on Friday. In its official English-language magazine, Dabiq, the Islamic State recently ran an article extolling the Charlie Hebdo attacks not only for killing “crusaders” but also for “further demolishing the grey zone” for Muslims.
Europe’s leaders have a moral obligation to put the safety and security of their citizens first, even before the destitute and vulnerable who long for the same protections.
“Muslims in the crusader countries will find themselves driven to abandon their homes for a place to live in the [Caliphate], as the crusaders increase persecution against Muslims living in Western lands so as to force them into a tolerable sect of apostasy in the name of ‘Islam’ before forcing them into blatant Christianity and democracy,” the article says. “Eventually, the grey zone will become extinct and there will be no place for grayish calls and movements,” it later continues.
The West, of course, can’t avoid shoring up security just for a love of the color grey. It’s naïve to think terrorists won’t seize on the opportunity of uncontrolled European borders as long as they are able. And if today’s new settlers fail to assimilate, the continent could face a serious internal threat for generations. It’s telling that several of Friday’s terrorists appear to have been born in France or Belgium.
#related#Europe’s leaders have a moral obligation to put the safety and security of their citizens first, even before the destitute and vulnerable who long for the same protections. Legitimate national interest may well demand that Europe temper its compassionate instincts. But the tragic reality is that strengthening protections and limiting inflow will do particularly acute harm to refugees who truly are moderate Muslims, and to religious minorities.
Europe created a gaping security vulnerability by throwing open its borders, and it did so with the best of intentions. Having glimpsed the terrible enemy that many of today’s refugees yearn to escape, the continent is beginning to realize that good intentions may not matter, and that more violence could loom on the horizon.