The dust had barely settled on the atrocious attacks in Paris when the spectre of terrorists hiding among the refugees fleeing Iraq and Syria was raised. The attacks have caused some to question Australia’s one-off intake of 12,000 Syrian refugees.
NSW Nationals MP Andrew Fraser called on Australia to “close our borders” in the interests of national security. Other former political figures have been sounding the clarion call of the dire consequences of Australia accepting these refugees.
The idea that there are “hidden terrorists” among the refugee intake is being raised due to the likelihood that at least one of the Paris attackers had arrived in France via a refugee channel from Greece. So, is it possible that Australia is about to be infiltrated by Islamic State-inspired militants among the refugees we are offering sanctuary to?
History provides lessons
The crisis enveloping Europe in attending to and properly caring for millions of terrified refugees fleeing the Assad regime in Syria and Islamic State (IS) is phenomenally problematic. These problems have ruptured some relationships between European Union and non-EU nations.
This represents the largest mass movement of people in Europe since the second world war. There are other great similarities between these two calamitous movements of people. The UK, for instance, was initially hostile to accepting large numbers of Jewish refugees due to a belief that they would not assimilate.
With so many people fleeing so much persecution, it beggars belief that there are people who have attached themselves to groups seeking to escape this barbarity but whose objectives are the very antithesis of those seeking sanctuary. But this is what some early information in the Paris attacks’ aftermath seems to suggest has taken place.
In this regard, it is entirely possible that a small number of IS followers have infiltrated groups seeking refuge and solace. Those guilty of evil crimes and those with evil intent hiding among the innocent is regrettably not unknown in these situations. In the second world war’s aftermath, the “ratlines” – or escape routes – of Nazis and fascists included their immersion among the refugee populations.
This has also been the case with more recent conflicts in the Balkans and elsewhere. Alleged war criminals have been found living in Australia.
A difficult task ahead
The task of identifying anyone from a war zone is very challenging – even more so when the particular countries people are fleeing have either rudimentary or no form of records of the essential details of their citizens.
This is why, following the September 11 attacks, a great deal of aid came from the US trying to introduce more robust identity-capturing measures globally.
This remains an unfinished project. In many areas where refugees continue to flee, there is not a comparable form of quick computerised identity checking as in Australia. Certain agencies here can access a computer with or without a warrant to look at your records. But this is not the case in countries where discovering someone’s identity is reduced to knowing the names of the individual’s parents and the specific village, town or area from which they hail.
These problems notwithstanding, the agencies tasked with undertaking such checks do so exhaustively. The checks can rely on everything from an allied country’s records to information from refugees themselves. The refugees have a passionate interest in ensuring their former persecutors are not among those persons provided sanctuary.
IS should not be equated with Islam – nor with the terrified Muslim refugees trying to escape the very acts that were perpetrated in Paris.
Mark Briskey does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Authors: The Conversation Contributor