Much has been said about the Syrian passport found near the body of one of the attackers outside the Stade de France. The passport belonged to someone that has allegedly passed through Greece and was registered among the refugees on October 3 on Leros island.
Serbia’s Μinistry of Interior confirmed that the holder of that passport arrived in Serbia on October 7 and claimed asylum. Based on this information, some European leaders and right wing supporters linked the terrorist threats to the recent refugee crisis. The new Polish right wing government said that after the Paris attacks, the country will not participate in the EU’s compulsory quota system for sharing refugees. If the identity of the attacker is confirmed, then Angela Merkel’s open door policy will face even more criticism. However this should not come as a surprise. European leaders had already taken steps to tighten border controls and restrict refugee movements. Many have openly opposed the quota sharing scheme imposed by the EU. Further border controls and delays in dealing with the influx of people might leave thousands of refugees stranded in Greece and Italy.
The legitimacy of the passport has not yet been verified and it is not clear if its’ holder was indeed the attacker. It is not clear either if the passport is fake, stolen, or bought, while it is well known that Syrian passports are a priced commodity among migrants in order to get registered as Syrians refugees. Frontex has repeatedly said in the past months that Arabs outside Syria were buying counterfeit Syrian passports in order to secure their right to asylum in the EU. Syrians themselves might be using fake identifications to ease their passage to Europe and there is a flourishing market of fake passports and IDs along the Balkan route with prices that can go up to 5000 euro.
The use of fake passports and counterfeit identities during terrorist attacks is not something new or unknown to the authorities. On October 17, 2001 a congressional hearing revealed relationships between the terrorists and organized criminal syndicates who smuggle humans across borders. The network has brokers in China, India, Africa, and Central and South America and other poor countries and in order to avoid detection, the smugglers are constantly changing their routes and methods. Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian national that made the failed attempt to plan a bomb in Los Angeles International Airport, in 1999, had used a counterfeit passport to pass to Canada and apply for asylum. He admitted that he had received specialized training on counterfeiting passports and changing identities in one of Al Qaida’s training camps.
The passport could indeed be fake but it could still be used by someone who wanted to ease his passage to Europe by passing through Greece. A fake passport could explain why the holder did not use a safer air route- as the chances to be identified would have been higher. It is not uncommon for extremists to pass as refugees or war victims during a mass scale humanitarian crisis like the one Europe is now facing at its borders. It has been recorded in various other countries that have been dealing with refugee crises and terrorism. From the Boko Haram attacks in camps of displaced people in Northeast Nigeria to the 2005 suicide bombing in Amman by Al Qaida, perpetrators have managed to infiltrate the region by presenting themselves as refugees or victims of war.
The origin, or the route one of the attackers followed, or not, has its significance but it hardly adds any new information on terrorism. The link between the attacker and the passport is yet to be established but even if its origin was confirmed, it would be wrong to conflate terrorism with refugees.
Over the past 4 months more than 700,000 people have passed to Europe through the Aegean. Greece has suffered heavy criticism about the way it dealt with this overwhelming crisis . The system collapsed under the record numbers of arrivals resulting in chaos and confusion.
Scanning equipment and human resources that were promised to Greece by other European member states in order to support the country to run the hot spots did not materialize, leaving Greece to deal alone with a massive influx of desperate people.
It goes without saying, that, even if, among the thousands of people arriving every day, some extremist elements have entered the country while posing as refugees, this does not change the plight of the rest of the refugees. These people flee from the war and extreme violence imposed upon them by the likes of those who attacked Paris.
The Paris attacks required months of planning and were executed by people who were obviously familiar with the areas they chose. One suspect was identified as a French citizen while the Belgian authorities have arrested several people in Brussels, as it was suspected that a part of the plot was organized in Brussels. Free movement between France and Belgium requires European passports. Even if one of the attackers proves to be a fighter coming from the Middle East, the identity of the other six attackers, points to French and Belgian nationals.
We can all imagine the impact that the Paris attacks might have upon the rights of the thousand refugees but also upon our individual freedoms and our ability to co-exist. We should not let war hawks, religious fanatics and right wing extremists deprive us from our humanity and compassion. There will be misinformation, heated debates, lies and conspiracy theories for many more weeks if not months. In the name of all the innocent victims from Paris to Beirut and Damascus let no more hate be spread.