European Security Threats and Challenges: An Examination of Mass Migration, Its Impact on European Security and Practical Policy Recommendations
John D. Johnson, Raymond H. Chester and Felix S. Johnfinn
European Security Challenges
In September 2015, the body of a Syrian child, Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach and became a symbol for the Syrian refugee crisis. He and at least six others died when their boat capsized while attempting to cross from Turkey to Greece.[i] Three months later, on New Year’s Eve 2015, scores of women were assaulted by a group of more than 1,000 migrant men in Cologne, Germany.[ii] Then, on March 22, 2016, coordinated suicide attacks at the Brussels international airport and on a metro train killed 32 civilians, including four Americans, and wounded more than 200. The attack, later claimed by the Islamic State, was the worst terrorist attack committed on Belgian territory in the country’s modern history.[iii] These separate events are representative of three of the most pressing European security challenges, namely: the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees from war zones in the Middle East; crime, including violence, allegedly committed by burgeoning migrant and refugee populations; and continued Islamist terrorist attacks in European cities.
This paper aims to examine the issues of mass migration to Europe, its impact on European security and provide practical policy recommendations on ways to address these important issues. European countries should work with international organizations, regional organizations, non-governmental organizations and partner nations to synchronize diplomatic, economic, military, and informational efforts to address mass migration and its impact on European security. To mitigate security problems associated with mass migration, the European Union (EU) should implement the following policy recommendations: resolve conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan; increase economic development in Africa and the Middle East; establish better paths for legal migration; enhance border control and training; improve Coast Guard training and interdiction; do not incentivize migration through over-generosity; emphasize multicultural assimilation programs; speed deportation process for criminal behavior; grow intelligence sharing and international cooperation; and expand capabilities to counter extremist internet activities.
Refugees vs. Migrants: Terms and Trends
The United Nations estimates that more than 65 million people are currently forcibly displaced from their homes globally. For its part, Germany saw more than one million migrants and refugees enter the country in 2015, in what appears to be the peak of the current crisis. But the numbers in Germany and across Europe include both migrants and refugees and the two terms are often grouped together and confused. There are distinct and important differences. Refugees are persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution.[iv] They are protected by international law and should not be returned to countries where their lives would be threatened. Migrants, on the other hand, are not displaced due to persecution or violence but rather because they have chosen to move, often to find work, to live with family, or to seek a better place to live for themselves and their families.[v] While both refugees and migrants ought to be treated with dignity and respect, the former are afforded greater international protection and guarantees due to their unique circumstance and legal status.[vi]
In 2015, a record 1.3 million people applied for asylum in Europe which is nearly twice the previous high after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1992. Germany alone admitted 1.1 million migrants and refugees.[vii] Figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) show that over a million refugees and migrants fled to Europe by sea alone with most taking dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean and landing primarily in Greece and Italy. Almost 4,000 drowned in the process.[viii]
Significantly, in 2016, the European Union and Turkey agreed to a deal. In exchange for $6.6 billion and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens, Turkey would work to block the departure of refugees attempting to cross to Greece. As a result, from 2015 to 2016, the number of people crossing from Turkey to Greece dropped by 80 percent.[ix] Turkey also hosts approximately 3.5 million refugees and migrants including more than 3.1 million Syrians. Other refugees in Turkey are mainly from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Somalia.[x] While the closure of the Turkey-to-Greece immigration route decreased the migrant and refugee flow, the route from North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea increased in 2016 to a record 181,000 with most landing in Italy, Greece and Spain.[xi] From January to July 2017, according to the UN, there were 120,000 total arrivals in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Spain.[xii]
The longer-term migration trends are even more serious. A recent Foreign Policy magazine special investigation estimates that Europe will see net immigration of over one million persons per year for the next 50 years.[xiii] Across the globe, but especially in fragile areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and the Middle East, there exists a somber combination of high birth rates, high unemployment, corruption, a “youth bulge” of young people entering the labor force with few economic opportunities, and insecurity. These conditions are expected to lead to continued immigration for the foreseeable future. Speaking to a German newspaper in July 2017, Microsoft founder Bill Gates warned that Africa’s population explosion will overwhelm Europe unless changes are made.[xiv] He suggested that Germany’s generosity motivates more people to leave Africa. Further, he advocated spending more on foreign aid to treat the root causes of migration, while making it more difficult for people to reach the continent.[xv]
Mass migration to Europe, especially since 2015, has raised substantial concerns due to the perceived increase in crimes committed by displaced persons. However, statistics on crimes committed by refugees and migrants are difficult to demarcate. Some countries do not always breakdown crimes by nationality. In other cases, the statistical results are mixed. In Sweden, for example, while the country took in over 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015, its government studies showed no appreciable increase in crime.[xvi] In Finland, who saw its refugee numbers increase from 3,600 in 2014 to 32,000 in 2015, sexual harassment cases doubled to 147 in the last four months of 2015 from 75 in the same period the year earlier. However, the Finnish numbers did not give an ethnic breakdown of the offenders.[xvii] In Germany, crime statistics do reveal a substantial rise in violence by foreigners, including Islamic extremists. Germany’s Interior Ministry reported that politically or ideologically motivated crimes by foreigners were up 66.5 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, including the deadly Christmas market attack in Berlin in December 2016 that killed 12 people. In 2016, murder and manslaughter statistics were also up 14.3 percent, and rape and sexual assault cases were up 12.8 percent from 2015. The numbers were higher for crimes committed by refugees, which were up 52.7 percent in 2016 compared to 2015.[xviii]
When considering migrant crime, the case of Samir from Tunisia is illustrative of the thousands of immigrants who travel to Europe, break the law, and go through the lengthy European deportation process. According to research by Spiegel Online, a widely read Germany news website, Samir emigrated illegally from Tunisia to Europe in 2008. In Tunisia, where unemployment is estimated at 40 percent, he saw no future for himself. On the other hand, he saw opportunity in Europe. First, he traveled to Libya from Tunisia after which he boarded a boat run by human traffickers to cross the Mediterranean Sea eventually landing in Italy. With no job or language skills, Samir then moved to Belgium, followed by the Netherlands, and then to Switzerland. Along the way, he became a drug dealer and was arrested for petty crimes, including theft. He eventually reached Germany where he was a drug dealer at the main train station in Dresden. He applied for asylum in Germany but his application was denied. After selling drugs to undercover police officers, he was convicted and sentenced to prison. In April 2017, after nine years in Europe, Samir landed back in Tunis after having been deported along with 16 others to Tunisia. While his mother was disappointed, she comforted herself that her son did not become an Islamic extremist.[xix]
Islamic Extremist Violence
Even more concerning than migrant crimes are the numerous instances where migrants and refugees do not assimilate into their new surroundings, commit criminal acts, and eventually become vulnerable to the lure of Islamic extremist propaganda and carry out terrorist attacks. Anis Amri, the Tunisian who conducted the Berlin Christmas market attack in 2016, is an example of a migrant with an extensive criminal background, including a four-year prison sentence, who eventually became an Islamic extremist.[xx] In Spain, Abdelbaki Es Satty, a Moroccan Imam, was behind the deadly 2017 Barcelona terrorist attack. He was known to police after having spent four years in prison for smuggling drugs and he was later arrested on charges of recruiting local youth to fight in Iraq. He appears to have recruited at least five Moroccan teens and young men to be part of the terrorist cell responsible for the Barcelona attack. At the time of the Barcelona attack, which killed 14 and wounded 130, Es Satty had a pending deportation order. However, he was killed in an accidental explosion at a house that contained 120 tanks for propane gas, along with explosive-making material and remote-controlled detonators.[xxi] What Amri, Es Satty, and numerous other Islamic extremists show is that there is often a long trail of signs of disenfranchisement and criminal behavior leading up to their radicalization to become terrorists.
High Profile Attacks in Europe
To illustrate the deadly impact of terrorist attacks carried out by migrants and refugees in Europe, the following table contains a list of several recent, high-profile Islamic extremist attacks in Europe, dates, casualties, and a brief description of attackers and attacks. Of note, a complete list of terrorist attacks in Europe during this period is many times longer. See the University of Maryland National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s Global Terrorism Database, which tracks terrorist attacks worldwide since 1970.[xxii]
Date - Country - City - Killed - Injured - Attacker & Attack
8-18-2017 - Finland - Turku - 2 - 6 - Abderrahman Mechkah, Moroccan, asylum request was denied; multiple stabbing attacks[xxv]
8-17-2017 - Spain - Barcelona - 14 - 130 - Abdelbaki Es Satty, Younes Abouyaaqoub, Mohamed Houli Chemlal, plus several others, Moroccan migrants, some with Spanish nationality; criminal records; attributed to Islamic State; van struck civilians in pedestrian area[xxvi]
6-3-2017 - England - London - 6 - 48 - Khuram Butt, Pakistan-born UK citizen, and Rachid Redouane, Moroccan-Libyan, plus one other attacker; van struck crowd followed by knife attacks[xxvii]
5-22-2017 - England - Manchester - 22 - 119 - Salman Ramadan Abedi, UK citizen of Libyan descent; suicide bomb at music concert venue[xxviii]
4-7-2017 - Sweden - Stockholm - 4 - 14 - Rakhmat Akilovb, Uzbek citizen with criminal record, asylum request was denied; truck struck civilians in pedestrian area[xxix]
12-19-2016 - Germany - Berlin - 12 - 48 - Anis Amri, Tunisian citizen, lengthy criminal record, slated for deportation; truck struck Berlin Christmas market[xxx]
7-24-2016 - Germany - Ansbach - 0 - 15 - Mohammad Daleel, Syrian refugee denied asylum awaiting deportation; pledged loyalty to Islamic State; suicide bombing at bar[xxxi]
7-14-2016 - France - Nice - 85 - 303 - Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, Tunisian citizen; truck struck civilians watching a Bastille Day fireworks display[xxxii]
3-22-2016 - Belgiumv- Brussels - 32 - 222 - Ibrahim El Bakraoui, Khalid El Bakraoui, Najim Laachraoui, plus several others; Belgian citizens of Moroccan descent and Belgian-Moroccan dual nationality; pledged allegiance to Islamic State; suicide bombings[xxxiii]
11-13-2015 - France - Paris - 130 - 322 - Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Ibrahim Abdeslam, Salah Abdeslam, Mohamed Abrini, Ahmad Al Mohammad, plus several others; Belgian and French citizens; Ahmad Al Mohammad was a Syrian refugee; attributed to Islamic State; targeted six locations in Paris with suicide attacks and small arms weapons[xxxiv]
Conclusions and Recommendations
There are several important reasons for mass migration to Europe. Chief among these are insecurity in the Middle East and Africa, high growth rates, poor governance, and the perception of better economic opportunity in Europe vis-à-vis the Middle East and Africa. However, upon arrival in Europe, multiple factors can contribute to displaced persons feeling disenfranchised from their host countries. These factors include a lack of language and job skills, and significant cultural differences such as religion and customs. The outcome of marginalization for some migrants and refugees in Europe has been their susceptibility to crime. Of note, while it is almost impossible to put a number figure on the percentage of displaced persons who fall into this category, certainly the numbers and impacts of crime are sufficiently large that they merit study and the development of appropriate mitigation strategies. Furthermore, the same disenfranchisement and marginalization that makes displaced persons prone to criminality also puts them at risk to the lure of extremist groups. Additionally, because many displaced persons in Europe are from Islamic countries in the Middle East and North Africa, they are at risk to the appeal of Islamic extremist groups who have a similar cultural identity to their own. As the list of high profile attacks mentioned earlier shows, several attackers were connected to the Islamic State. In light of the statistics, trends and anecdotes cited previously, what follows are several conclusions and recommendations on ways in which the European Union and other stakeholders, including the U.S., should address these important security issues.
- Resolve Conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan. War in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, especially in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, continues to be a root cause of refugee flow from those countries. Millions of Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans are currently in camps in neighboring countries or have moved further abroad to Europe and the U.S. While difficult to achieve, political solutions are needed to resolve these conflicts with the hope that refugee flows will cease and, at some point in the future, conditions on the ground will be such that refugees will feel secure enough to return to their homes.
- Boost Economic Development in Africa and the Middle East. For many parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, poor economic opportunity is the principal reason many people migrate. Africans see wages earned by their compatriots who have left for Europe returning in the form of remittances that far exceed the wages they are able to earn at home. Absent economic development and jobs, many will continue to seek better opportunities for themselves and to help their families through migration to Europe. Admittedly, economic development is being tried and the EU has sensibly established a multi-billion Euro trust fund to further this endeavor. Generating viable African economies to relieve migration pressure will be a long-term effort. In the interim, a paradoxical concern is that EU-induced jobs in Africa might actually provide the funds necessary for some Africans to pay smugglers to take them abroad where they could not afford it earlier. Anecdotally but importantly, for some developmental projects in Africa, it appears the problem is a lack of skilled project managers, not a lack of African workers.[xxxv]
- Establish Better Paths for Legal Migration. Because so many potential immigrants see no legal avenues to pursue for migration to Europe, they often turn to smugglers or human traffickers. This route is both dangerous and expensive. If European countries were to offer better options for legal migration in their Embassies in Africa, for example, it could alleviate some illegal migration. A strong incentive to encourage legal migration would be for the EU to impose stricter rules whereby individuals caught migrating illegally or convicted of criminal acts would be ineligible for legal migration.
- Enhance Border Control and Training. While progress has been made in the area of border control, much work remains to be done. The EU has been working with Turkey and multiple African countries to block departures from the Middle East and Africa. Mali, Niger, and Chad continue to be the principal countries through which migrants travel from Africa to get to the coast for onward movement across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. North African countries, especially Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco, continue to be points of departure for Europe-bound African migrants.[xxxvi] The EU, working bilaterally with African partners and multilaterally with the UN and the African Union, needs to continue to make the border control effort a priority. Since the 2016 EU-Turkey deal has worked well to stem the flow of departures from Turkey, the EU should consider similar deals with North African countries who are points of departure for would-be emigrants and asylum seekers.
- Improve Coast Guard Training and Interdiction. As with border control, training African and Middle Eastern Countries’ Coast Guard units to interdict illegal migration is a critical piece of a successful counter-human trafficking strategy. What is more, it is needed to prevent another 2015 where almost 4,000 people died making the dangerous crossing to Europe in unseaworthy boats. Understandably, much work is already underway in this area but more work is needed if all parties (e.g., EU, African Partners, U.S., Turkey, etc.) are to come up with an effective, long-term solution to the migration problem. One example of successful interdiction is the EU’s plan regarding migrants traveling between Libya and Italy. In July 2017, Italy’s parliament passed a “Code of Conduct” for how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operate as an attempt to regulate migrant flows. Moreover, Italy deployed two ships to aid Libya’s efforts in controlling their borders as they increased search-and-rescue (SAR) boundaries out to 70 miles from its coastline, far exceeding the recognized 12-mile SAR norm. Libya restricts NGO operations in the expanded zone, which allows them to detect illegal migration further from their shore. Early results show that illegal migration to Italy dropped by 50% in July 2017 over July 2016 numbers.[xxxvii]
- Do Not Incentivize Migration through Over-Generosity. As mentioned previously, Bill Gates warned Europe against being too generous to refugees and migrants. As the word gets out, he suggested more will want to follow. By comparison, refugee camps for Syrians in neighboring Jordan and Turkey provide tents for living and the basic necessities. The austere conditions are such that once the security situation improves, Syrians refugees will want to return to their homes. Some European countries have constructed low-rise, modular homes in unused plots around their cities in order to house migrants and refugees. The homes, while small, are comfortable and some use solar panels to make enough energy to be self-sufficient. Under these conditions, the question remains whether the more than one million migrants and refugees who have come to Europe since 2015 will want to move on, or are accommodations such that migrants and refugees will want to make them long-term.
- Emphasize Multicultural Assimilation Programs. For some displaced persons, there is a connection between the lack of assimilation, induction into crime, and the turn to radicalization. These linkages toward extremism can ultimately result in terrorist attacks. However, the patterns also show there are steps countries can take to curtail criminal activity and the spread of violent extremism. Mitigation begins with fully understanding the environment that breeds this behavior. Displaced persons inclined to criminality are often known to local law enforcement agencies. These individuals typically have been through significant social or family trauma and are searching for a place to fit in. Other factors such a lack of job skills, language barriers, and cultural biases can also drive their inclination toward unlawful behavior. In some countries this phenomenon is manifested in the form of gangs and organized criminal behavior rather than Islamic extremism (e.g., MS-13 gang activity in the U.S.). Moreover, the breeding ground for the seeds of radicalization often occurs in jails or at a local mosque where violence is imparted as an answer to perceived societal marginalization and anger toward host societies. Understanding this phenomenon can help countries to mitigate the dangers associated with this progression, enabling host countries to provide multicultural counseling, offer language courses, address mental health issues, emphasize job skills training programs, and present counter-narratives to the radicalization efforts by Islamic extremist recruiters.[xxxviii]
- Speed Deportation Process for Criminal Behavior. The majority of migrants and refugees are peaceful and focused on finding a secure place to live away from conflict or on improving their economic standing. However, as mentioned previously, a small number of migrants and refugees have committed criminal acts in their host countries. In Germany, the trends are especially concerning. More ominously, the vignettes from Barcelona, Berlin, and other high profile attacks show that some lesser criminal behavior is a precursor to more violent attacks including terrorism. In both the 2016 Berlin and 2017 Barcelona terrorist attacks, the attackers had lengthy criminal records for both petty offenses and violence. Unfortunately, the law enforcement and legal systems across Europe have not moved quickly enough to deport migrants and refugees found guilty of criminal offenses. Europe (and the U.S.) should speed the deportation process for migrants, especially for criminal behavior, even though this will require diplomatic engagement with origin countries to take their citizens back. While intensive diplomatic efforts have helped in this area, not all countries are accommodating when it comes to acknowledging citizenship and accepting back displaced persons who have a history of crime.
- Grow Intelligence Sharing and International Cooperation. In almost all of the high-profile terror attacks cited previously, the attackers were known to police and most had been in custody of the police before for criminal acts including violence. In several instances, the attackers were previously incarcerated for several years, only to be released after which they went “underground” and moved to another European country. Anis Amri, a Tunisian asylum seeker, was convicted of multiple crimes in Italy and served four years in prison before being released in 2015 even though Italian authorities were well-aware of his Islamic extremist views. He subsequently traveled to Germany and, in 2016, he attacked the Berlin Christmas market killing 12 and injuring 48. The EU countries, Interpol (International Criminal Police Organization), Europol (European Police Office) and the U.S. need to grow intelligence sharing networks, even more than they currently exist, and they need to improve international cooperation if they are to stay ahead of criminals associated with extremist activities and who are capable of crossing international borders in Europe with ease.
- Expand Capabilities to Counter Terrorist Internet Activities. Islamic extremist groups such as the Islamic State have successfully used the internet to spread their radical views and to recruit followers, both to fight in the conflicts in the Middle East and to conduct “Lone Wolf” attacks in Europe and the United States. Europe must continue to work unilaterally and with its partners to identify would-be terrorists on the internet and arrest them. Cybercrime technological tools need to be continuously developed and improved in order to monitor internet activity, gather intelligence on aspiring terrorists, shut down illicit sites, and track down terror plotters and propagandists before they can attack.
The problem of mass migration to Europe is one that will continue for the foreseeable future. This movement is due to a combination of conditions in the Middle East and Africa such as insecurity, explosive growth rates, poor governance, and limited economic opportunities. This paper has examined the security challenges associated with mass migration to Europe and the connection between refugee and migrant crime, and Islamic extremist violence. While there are no easy answers or simple fixes to these complex international problems, we have proposed several practical policy recommendations for consideration on ways to address these important security issues.
The contents of this paper reflect the authors’ original views and are not necessarily endorsed by the U.S. Department of Defense.
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