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22 March 2016

Britain may be vulnerable to terror attacks – but not because we have a refugee crisis

Conflating the refugee crisis with EU migration is simply wrong.

By Jason Cowley

Of all the responses to the tragic events in Brussels today the most idiotic is the suggestion – from the feeble Allison Pearson, Ukip and others – that Britain has a refugee crisis and therefore is especially vulnerable to spectacular mass-casualty terror attacks. This is simply wrong. Britain is and has been for a long while vulnerable to Islamist terror attacks – but not because it has a refugee crisis.

As if it needs saying, we are not part of the Schengen passport-free zone (which is unravelling with each passing week as member states introduce emergency border controls). We are an island that has control of its borders, unlike France, Germany or indeed the failing state of Belgium. As a member of the EU’s single market, we have an inflow of economic migrants into Britain but these people are emphatically not refugees.

The continuing conflation of Europe’s refugee crisis with the freedom of movement of EU citizens is as dishonest as it is stupid. Even serious Tory MPs I know have said to me that the 1.2 million refugees in Germany will very soon be able to move freely in Europe and settle in Britain. In fact, Germany is extremely reluctant to grant citizenship to refugees and migrants – just study the experiences of the long-settled Turkish communities. A migrant can apply for German citizenship after living in the country for five years and can become a full citizen after eight years, if indeed citizenship is ultimately granted.  

There’s no doubt that Angela Merkel made a lethal mistake when she announced last September that Germany would grant asylum to all Syrian refugees arriving at its borders. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, was not wrong when he accused the German Chancellor of “moral imperialism”. (Another argument was that Merkel was using the refugee crisis as a means to get more young people of working age into the country. Germany has an ageing and falling population; indeed, the population has been predicted to fall to as low as 66 million by 2060.)

Merkel’s declaration exerted a considerable pull factor, dragging the migrants north along the hazardous west Balkan route (since closed). In effect, Merkel opened up Germany (and other northern states such as Sweden) to a mass influx of traumatised people as well as a fair few opportunists. As many as 1.2 million refugees entered Germany last year. (Sources close to the German government told me that an additional 300,000 entered illegally.) As it turned out, a third of the refugees were Syrian, a third were from Iraq, Afghanistan and African countries, and a third were from the Balkans – Kosovans, Albanians and so on.

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Meanwhile, David Cameron has announced that Britain will take 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. These will come from the camps in countries neighbouring Syria – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq – and priority will be given to women and children. There is a persuasive argument that, in solidarity with its European allies and as an act of burden-sharing, Britain should take more Syrian refugees – after all, we were willing participants in the US-led invasion of Iraq that did so much to destabilise the Middle East.

But 20,000 is what we have said we would take over a five-year period. No more, no less. Some crisis.