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Resettling Victims, not Persecutors

In just the past week, Germany has conducted huge raids in several different cities, and detained or arrested dozens of people on charges of aiding or joining Islamic extremist groups. The actions smacked of desperation. New York Times wonders whether Germany's laws and security forces are up to the task of preventing attacks from the hundreds of suspected jihadis (g) Germany allowed to enter its territory over the past few years:

Yet the modest yield [of one raid] — just one arrest and 15 placed under investigation and released — muted any chest thumping.

More disconcerting still, the man arrested, a 36-year-old Tunisian believed to be plotting an attack in Germany, was known to the authorities as a suspect in a horrific 2015 assault on a national museum in the Tunisian capital.

The case is already reviving familiar questions of whether the German system is riddled with loopholes and problems that pose a risk to national security and whether Germany’s post-World War II structures are outmoded for 21st-century terrorist threats

Like Anis Amri, the Tunisian suspected of killing 12 by plowing a truck through a Christmas market in Berlin last year, the latest Tunisian suspect, who was not identified, entered Germany as an asylum seeker. He then slipped through the fingers of the authorities while his deportation was thwarted by bureaucratic hurdles and a lack of documents, even after Tunisian authorities had alerted their German counterparts.

The good news this time was that the police, after thoroughly tracking their suspect, say they broke up a suspected plot in its early stages.

Yet that success did little to ease the pressures on Chancellor Angela Merkel, who faces a stiff election challenge this year, for her decision to allow in nearly a million migrants and refugees in 2015. Even as Ms. Merkel’s government praised the police for the crackdown, prosecutors conceded that the Tunisian’s tale exposed persistent shortcomings.

One of the problems with simply opening your country's borders to anyone who's capable of reaching them is that you're not only going to let in refugees, you're also going to let in the people who persecuted the refugees. After all, if the tides turn, someone who's a well-known terrorist or criminal will have just as much reason to flee -- if not much more reason -- as the people he once bombed, shot, or tortured.

Fortunately for the persecutors, Germany didn't require them to even show identification, much less disclose anything about their background. They just strolled across the border.

The United States (until recently, of course), has done a much better job of actually ensuring that the people who are resettled were the victims, not the persecutors. Natasha Hall, a former refugee screener for U.S. Immigration describes the process:

The process starts with the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR). The UNHCR conducts a series of interviews and screenings, including home country reference checks and a biological screening such as iris scans. Then UNHCR has to decide if a case is suitable for resettlement and which country an applicant can apply to. (Out of more than 65 million refugees worldwide, about 0.01 percent were resettled to the United States last year.) Another international organization assists with resettlement processing by collecting documents and conducting more interviews with the families, looking carefully for discrepancies.

By the time Homeland Security steps in to conduct an interview, the officer already has a stack of biographical information on the refugee. Ironically, Iraqis, Syrians and Iranians, who are all now barred from entering the United States, are far and away the most well-documented refugees we interview. I typically had to review a stack of high school degrees, baptismal certificates, marriage and birth certificates, honors and awards, photos with U.S. service personnel, recommendations from American military members, and conscription booklets or cards, which every man in those countries had to carry. Since the United States has been in Iraq for more than 10 years, the government has a plethora of information on Iraqis — in many cases, terrorists, criminals and persecutors are recognizable and denied. In one instance, because we had this information, I knew that a man had worked with Saddam Hussein’s intelligence agency for years and potentially tortured people and, because of checks already in place, that person’s application was denied.

The US process is arguably too strict -- Hall describes the case of one deserving candidate who became impatient with the length of the screening process and joined the overland route to Europe. But even if Germany had imposed a process only half as rigorous as that of the USA, Germany would be a very different place today.

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