Will French president's welcome of Syrian refugees stem fears?

French President François Hollande said that the Paris attacks would not prompt his country to go back on its commitment to taking in 30,000 refugees over the next two years.

Stephane de Sakutin/Reuters
French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech during a meeting of French mayors in Paris, France, Wednesday.

Five days after 129 Parisians were killed in a terror attack last Friday, stoking a backlash against refugees and immigrants in France and other parts of the world, French President François Hollande said Wednesday that he remains committed to taking in 30,000 refugees during the next two years.

"Some have wanted to link the influx of refugees to Friday's acts of terror," President Hollande said in a speech to French mayors. But, he added, France should honor its duty to offer protection to refugees fleeing countries like Syria and Iraq “because they are being tormented by the same who have attacked us.”

Hollande added that he is committed to ensuring both "humanity for refugees and protection of the French people."

"I know your worries," the French president said. "We also have to verify people who are coming onto the European territory and into France to make sure there are zero risks for our country. So we will be executing necessary verification before accepting any refugees onto our soil."

Hollande's message, which comes less than a week after Islamic State (IS) fighters attacked Paris in a series of gun and bomb assaults, sends a strong message to some European leaders and US governors that have attempted to block refugees, citing security concerns.

Their fear is that IS fighters may pose as refugees to carry out attacks in Western countries, a concern that arose after it was revealed that one of the Paris attackers may have entered Europe posing as a refugee with a forged Syrian passport.

But Islamic State militants might have planted the passport to implicate refugees and “make people feel unsafe” near them, Thomas de Maiziere, the interior minister of Germany, said Thursday.

And while it's still unclear exactly who the attacker with the forged passport is, all of the other attackers appear to have been European-born and mainly French nationals.

That hasn't stopped many, especially on the political right, from using the Paris attacks to whip up anti-refugee and anti-immigrant rhetoric, and to argue for tighter border controls.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen called Monday for an immediate halt to the intake of migrants in France. More than half of US governors have now issued statements saying they would reject Syrian refugees in their states. Most US Republican presidential candidates have said the United States should block Syrian refugees, with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz saying they would allow only Christian, not Muslim, refugees.

In the US, 52 percent of Americans said that countries accepting Syrian refugees are "less safe," according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Hollande's announcement may serve to stem that fear.

As he pointed out in his speech Wednesday, many refugees are fleeing just the kind of carnage that visited Paris on Friday.

And terrorism in Europe is not the work of militants posing as refugees, but of homegrown fighters, as Australia's The Age pointed out in a recent op-ed.

The Charlie Hebdo killings in January were carried out by the Kouachi brothers, who were born and raised in Paris, as was Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who attacked a kosher supermarket in Paris that same weekend. Three of the four suicide bombers behind the 7/7 London subway bombing were born in Britain, and most of the thousands traveling from Europe to join IS fighters have also been European-born.

The US, where President Obama has pledged to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next 12 months, is home to one of the most rigorous vetting processes for refugees in the world. Refugees are vetted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the intelligence community, a process that takes 18 to 24 months.

"Many of these refugees are victims of terrorism themselves, that's what they're fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values," Obama said Monday at the Group of 20 summit in Turkey. "Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety, and ensure our own security. We can and must do both."

In France, Hollande also pointed out that provoking fear, stoking a backlash against Muslims and migrants, and halting life as usual was the goal of Islamic State.

“Life should resume fully,” Hollande said Wednesday. “What would France be without its museums, without its terraces, its concerts, its sports competitions?

“France should remain as it is. Our duty is to carry on our lives.”

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