Sunday 4 December 2016

Anti-migrant mood deepens in central Europe after Paris terror attacks

Published 16/11/2015 | 18:40

Greek lifeguards help refugees and migrants to disembark from a small boat after their arrival from the Turkish coast on the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)
Greek lifeguards help refugees and migrants to disembark from a small boat after their arrival from the Turkish coast on the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)

The Paris terror attacks have deepened the anti-migrant mood in Central Europe and are threatening to create an atmosphere even less welcoming for those fleeing war in the Middle East.

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On the Slovenian-Austrian border, the armies of both nations strip-searched migrants on their westward march amid heightened security over the weekend, causing large numbers to build up at a refugee camp.

The shifting mood could threaten European efforts to find unity on the migration crisis.

A new anti-migrant government in Poland already is casting doubt on whether it will take all 7,000 refugees the previous government agreed to accept.

Poland, Hungary and other countries across the region - many of them multicultural lands in the past - have been largely mono-ethnic Christian societies since the mass killings and expulsions of World War II.

Resistance there has been especially stiff towards Muslims, who are largely seen as threats to national identity.

Many of these nations faced threats to their very nationhood in the past, with Poland wiped off the map in the 19th century, Hungary losing two-thirds of its territory after World War I, and nations across the region subjected to Soviet control during the Cold War - all factors seen as contributing to anxieties over nationhood.

That one of the suicide bombers appears to be a Syrian who passed through Greece in October is also deepening a belief among many that the refugees should be seen as potential terrorists.

"All of Europe should now be opposed to the migrants," said Cristian Albu, a legal expert in Romania. "We have to prevent what happened in Paris happening elsewhere."

Even some of the migrants themselves are worried about the security gaps that have come with the largest movement of refugees across European borders since World War II.

Some say they fear that the same Islamic State extremists they are fleeing will infiltrate the masses of migrants, carry out more attacks and create greater distrust of legitimate asylum-seekers.

"Europe made a big mistake. They should not allow all the people," said Emile Tarabeh, a customs officer from Syria at a migrant centre in Presevo, Serbia, who is hoping to reach Sweden. "It will be more difficult now" for the real refugees, he said.

Joanna Fomina, a migration expert at the Polish Academy of Sciences, said expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment have exploded online since the Paris attacks, with some people essentially saying "I told you so" or saying Muslims should be gassed liked Jews during the Holocaust.

She said: "This attack will increase public and political polarisation over the issue of refugees, convincing those who are already prejudiced that their fears are well-grounded.

"We also can expect more Euroscepticism - negative attitudes towards the EU and migration go hand in hand."

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, who has taken a prominent anti-migrant stance, criticized the EU as "adrift".

"It is weak, uncertain and paralysed," he told the Parliament in Budapest. "In Brussels they continue to say that immigration is good, even while we get new evidence every day that immigration is a bad thing."

Recalling that Hungary been criticised as inhumane for building fences on its borders to keep migrants out, Mr Orban said: "But the question is: What is more humane? To close the borders to illegal border-crossers or put the lives of innocent European citizens at risk?"

He said it is "bad even to think about how many terrorists may have gone through the territory of our country". Nearly 400,000 migrants passed through Hungary this year.

"We don't think that everyone who comes from there is a terrorist, but we don't know," Mr Orban said.

"No one can say how many terrorists have arrived among the migrants until now, how many are already here and how many are arriving day by day."

In Poland, the right-wing government of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo was sworn in on Monday. Her Law and Justice party won a decisive victory in an election last month, and analysts believe it gained support from its anti-migrant statements.

During the campaign, party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski warned that migrants are carrying "parasites and protozoa" and other diseases that could harm native Europeans.

Critics likened those words to the kind of language Adolf Hitler used against the Jews.

Since Friday, members of the government have indicated that they will treat asylum-seekers as possible security threats, possibly not fulfilling the agreement to accept 7,000.

"Every shadow, every doubt regarding their past will make their asylum application automatically rejected," Poland's new foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, said over the weekend.

He and other government members support the idea of sending humanitarian aid to the Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon - but not letting them into Europe.

In an interview on Polish state television late on Sunday, Mr Waszczykowski also proposed helping Syrian arrivals in Europe form an army that could invade Syria.

"The tens of thousands of young Syrians who jump out of the rubber rafts and don't ask for water, food or clothes but ask where they can charge their mobile phones could, with our help, fight to get their country back," he said.

Press Association

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