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Don’t let Islamic State turn you against refugees


Screenshot from the Vice video: Bulldozing the border between Iraq and Syria: The Islamic State Karl-Ludwig Poggemann under a Creative Commons Licence

There’s a reason that the Paris suicide bombers made sure to bring their passports, writes Hazel Healy.

As France comes to terms with another vicious attack on its citizens in Paris, the world is picking over possible responses.

At this stage, there are many unknowns. We do not yet know the full truth about the identities of all those who attacked Paris on Friday night. It seems one bomber may have entered Europe on a fake Syrian passport; the masterminds are now thought to be a French and Belgian national, operating out of Syria. As intelligence agencies piece the terrifying picture together over the coming days, more revealing details will emerge.

There are some things that we do know for sure. It doesn’t fit the ISIS worldview to have a compassionate Europe offering sanctuary to refugees – however patchy and flawed that protection may be in practice.

We also know that many refugees entering Europe are themselves fleeing ISIS. I met one such group in October, when I travelled to the Greek island of Lesbos. The group of 20 Yazidi refugees related how they had escaped their village near Mosul in Iraq, with nothing but the clothes on their back, narrowly escaping ISIS’ widespread massacre and kidnapping of their people, some 14 months earlier. The boat they were travelling in sank in the Aegean Sea on 28 October; one Yazidi woman, Linda, had lost her 14-month-old son in the shipwreck. She sat almost catatonic in Molyvos harbour, her journey disrupted, sustained only by the discovery that her 2-year-old had just been found, alive in the hospital, just hours before.

Any attempt to block refugees’ flight will only increase fatalities like these – and prove an ineffective method to fight ISIS. Instead, making routes safe and legal, with consulates in North Africa and Turkey would enable destination countries to run better identity checks, and mean ISIS’ victims and their children do not have to die seeking safety.

Instead, attacks like those that occurred in Paris should increase our instinct to extend protection. The Paris suicide bombers and gunmen chose to carry out their attack at those places, as Kenan Malik has written on Al Jazeera, where ‘mainly young, anti-racist, multi-ethnic Parisians hang out’ – not the tourist spots.

They are the same kinds of places in which, as Iraqi blogger Emad Al Sharaa writes in the coming December edition of New Internationalist, car bombs went off in Baghdad’s Karrada district last May.

The attacks are a direct challenge to the very idea of an open progressive society, be that in Iraq, France or Lebanon.

This link is important because it helps us to see not just the geographical location of the attacks, but the principles that ISIS is targeting, with its characteristic, diabolical savagery, all over the world.

The rightwing press and politicians will try to make this very simple. Poland for example, has said it will no longer take in refugees due to the recent Paris attacks, citing ‘security concerns’.

The answers to what drive ISIS and how best to combat it are deep and complex. But one sure-fire way to undermine them – and a healthy bilateral game plan – is to build bridges with the Muslim world by welcoming their war refugees into Europe. ISIS thrives on a ‘them and us’ world, let’s not give them the satisfaction.

Hazel Healy is New Internationalist co-editor. Our Jan/Feb 2016 magazine will look at the refugee crisis and migration flows. Subscribe to our magazine.

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