Several European countries have tightened border controls over the past year in response to security concerns related to the refugee crisis. A United Nations investigator has warned that moves to crackdown on migration may worsen the risk of more attacks in Europe while breaching refugees’ fundamental rights. Ben Emmerson, the Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, found “little evidence” that Isis and other terror groups use refugee flows or that asylum seekers are prone to radicalisation. The finding was echoed in Europol’s 2016 European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, which acknowledging a small number of known cases.
Delivering a report to the UN General Assembly in New York, he said: “While there is no evidence that migration leads to increased terrorist activity, migration policies that are restrictive or that violate human rights may, in fact, create conditions conducive to terrorism. Overly-restrictive migration policies introduced because of terrorism concerns are not justified and may, in fact, be damaging to state security.” Policies to “criminalise irregular migration”, that build fences and carry out push-back operations are driving covert movements and people smuggling that “may ultimately assist terrorists and lead to increased terrorist activity”.
Analysts have previously warned that moves to turn away or detain refugees from Syria and other countries feeds into extremist propaganda that seeks to portray the West as a violent and oppressive enemy of Muslims.
Fear of further attacks has driven a growing link between anti-terror measures and immigration policy that is “analytically and statistically unfounded, and must change,” Mr Emmerson said. “Even with ongoing attempts to reach resolution in the Syrian conflicts, we are likely to see a continued flow of refugees beyond the current record levels,” he told the UN General Assembly. “What is clear is that policies that respect human rights, justice, and accountability, and that manifest the values on which democracy is founded, are an essential element of effective counterterrorism policies. The further we move away from this, the more we concede to terrorist groups. We are here today to correct the misperception that international refugee law is an obstacle when it comes to addressing security concerns.” He concluded, “In fact, it is in all of our interests to protect refugees and give them the opportunity to create a better future for themselves and their families. It is also the right thing to do.”
His study recommends that countries should recognise that the vast majority of people fleeing Syria and other affected regions are victims of terrorism, rather than viewing them as potential suspects in the first instance. It also calls on states to respect the fundamental rights of migrants and warns that operations to turn back ships or asylum seekers and detain of migrants likely violate human rights and breach obligations under international refugee law.