Will Europe's door stay open? Paris attacks fuel anti-migrant backlash.

Conservative leaders across Europe have increased their calls for rolling up the welcome mat to migrants and refugees in the aftermath of the attacks.

Fotis Plegas/Reuters
Refugees and migrants line up for food at a temporary camp on the Greek island of Leros on Monday. Many fear an anti-migrant backlash in the aftermath of last week's terror attack in Paris.

As Islamic State atrocities intensified throughout 2014, Muslims in many countries braced for a generalized backlash and fought back with a viral media campaign: #NotInMyName.

Now, in the wake of the Paris attacks – and the enormous flow of refugees into Europe this summer – it's Europe's migrants who are feeling targeted. A new online campaign has launched to challenge the growing conflation of terrorism with migration: #IAmAMigrant.

Migrants have emerged as the scapegoats of the Paris attacks after news broke that a perpetrator of the rampage may have entered France via the migrant trail. The revelation has further stressed a Europe whose sense of solidarity and identity has been profoundly tested by the sheer volume of refugees crossing its borders. Right-wing politicians and heads of state in Europe – now joined by state governors in the United States – are calling for doors and borders to be closed. 

Just as #NotInMyName aimed to show Muslims as peace-loving citizens of the world, #IAmAMigrant, organized by the London-based Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, aims to humanize those fleeing war and terror, most of whom are Muslim.

“Migrants are targeted by what happened, and EU policies are going to come down on them,” says Philippe Moreau Defarges, a foreign affairs expert at the French Institute of International Relations. “I expect there will be a major breakdown of policies we've worked hard to put into place."

'Paris changes everything'

The link to the migrant trail formed after a passport from Syria was found next to the body of one of the suicide bombers who blew themselves up at France's national stadium. Authorities said his fingerprints were later matched to those of a migrant recorded in Greece, the entry point for many migrants in Europe.

Now more than half of US governors have said they won’t accept Syrian refugees, while European politicians have promised to roll up their welcome mat. A day after the attack, Poland said it would reject asylum seekers that it had previously agreed to take in under EU burden-sharing quotas, while France’s right-wing National Front called for "an immediate halt" to new arrivals.

In Germany, pressure has ramped up on Chancellor Angela Merkel. She has maintained throughout the fall that Germany will not limit the number of asylum cases the country will consider. Yet her traditional conservative allies from southern Bavaria, where most migrants enter Germany, have called on her to reverse her open-door policy after thousands of Syrians, Afghans, and residents of the Balkans poured over the border.

“The days of unchecked immigration and illegal entry can’t continue," Bavaria's Finance Minister Markus Söder said over the weekend. "Paris changes everything.”

It’s a message that Christian Mölling, a security policy fellow at the Marshall Fund in Berlin, says only serves IS objectives.

“If we close our borders, we start to limit liberal societies,” he says. “That is what they want to achieve. That is always the objective of terrorism.”

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, has called for more “orderly procedures” when registering asylum seekers. He says that while processes can be improved and border security can be beefed up, doors can’t be closed to refugees, despite calls to the contrary.

“In Germany, refugees have a legal right to be protected,” he adds.

Anti-migrant backlash

Migrants themselves worry about becoming targets of everything from discrimination and harsher refugee policies to the kind of terrorism they were fleeing.

At a teeming migrant camp in Calais in northern France, where most have their sights northward to Britain, a French medical worker says migrants have shown their solidarity with Paris following the attacks. 

"They obviously fear for themselves," he says. “They’re concerned about what’s going to happen to them now. There’s already so much Islamophobia and xenophobia in France.”

Ali Isar, a refugee from Afghanistan, says Paris attacks have only confirmed his desire to leave. “It’s unbelievable what happened in Paris,” he says. “It’s scary that there is this terrorist group in France now too.”

Even mainstream voices are expressing a hardened stance for migrants who aren’t refugees. In a speech on Monday, French President François Hollande said the migrant situation could not continue as is.

“It is vital that Europe welcomes with dignity those who need asylum, but to those who don't need it, they must go back to their country," he said.

Experts say it is possible that terrorists could slip through the migrant trail but that it hasn't been flagged as a major risk. Homegrown terrorists, for example, have no borders to evade. 

Josef Janning, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, says that in Germany there has been little evidence to suggest that the massive flow of people increases the risk of terrorism. German officials are investigating 10 cases of refugees suspected of having fought with Islamic State in Syria, according to Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine. 

“[Populists] are trying to create the image of a chaotic, uncontrolled process, the umbrella under which all sorts of criminals and dangerous activities flow in,” says Mr. Janning.

While high volumes have led to some chaos, he notes, the fact that a fingerprint of a perpetrator in France leads back to Greece shows there is monitoring happening. He says the problem is the gap in sharing information, which is crucial to ensure confidence in Europe's open-door policy.

“As long as people feel insecure they will have a tendency to listen to [populist] arguments,” adds Mr. Janning.

That’s where the organizers of #IamAMigrant say they make a difference. 

“We must not let this tragedy be hijacked by right-wing politicians to feed their own agendas,” said the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants in a statement after the Paris attacks. “Europe, despite its many internal differences, must remain a beacon of hope for people. We cannot abandon the thousands of refugees who are fleeing for their lives.”

• Colette Davidson contributed reporting from Calais, France.

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