Mass, uncontrolled movements of people are often associated with conflict, terrorism, and insecurity. One need look no farther than the current conflict in Syria to witness this fact. The ongoing Syrian migration crisis has sparked fears across Europe. The continent feels insecure due to triggered feelings of xenophobia and uncertainty. Refugees are seen as potential terrorists to be marginalized socially and geographically. They are seen as a threat to the state as well as local identity and culture.
In the Middle East and North Africa region, harsh policies against refugees, and especially Syrian refugees, are common. Incidents like the Reyhanli car bombings reinforce negative attitudes towards refugees. Many governments in the region, including Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, have linked their refugees with violence and see refugees as vessels for radical groups hoping to incite terror and unrest in the region. Yet, these very policies are drivers of radicalization. States should not ostracize refugees as outsiders and remove them from society, both socially and geographically. Instead, a more inclusive and humanitarian based liberal cooperative approach should be implemented.
When dealing with the issue of state security, many states take a realist approach that treasures national security and dismisses humanitarian principles. Hence realist policies have resulted in the ill-treatment of refugees.
Ill-treated refugees are highly vulnerable to long-term dissatisfaction that may cause them to strike back against the state system. Tremendous changes to occupational status, social status, and living environment, can undermine an individual’s sense of belonging. Conflict can lead individuals to construct a new identity, one that might make them sympathetic to transnational terrorism. Unlike its conventional counterpart, transnational terrorism treats the state as the primary cause of suffering and encourages individuals to transcend national boundaries.
When addressing this new form of terrorism, a liberal cooperative approach may be more helpful for policymakers. Education, access to active participation in the host’s society, and the enforcement of sufficient law and order, can ease tensions within refugee camps and deny radicals potential targets. (i) In Dadaab, which hosts the largest refugee camp in the world, surveys and interviews show that teenagers who received education were less likely to leave the camp to fight for the regional terrorist group, Al-Shabaab. (ii)
Proper placement and regulation of refugee camps is essential to counter-radicalization efforts. (iii) Because refugees are often isolated from the government, terrorists use them to hide within and recruit supporters. Due to a lack of law enforcement and jurisdiction in the camps, terrorist training and preparation can be easily conducted, allowing refugee camps to serve as a breeding ground for transnational terrorism. (iv)
Unfortunately, many countries lack the capacity to make such reforms. More than half of all countries in the Middle East and North Africa region lack the capacity to deal with these imminent crises. In Egypt, domestic instability has severely impacted the refugee protection environment. In Morocco, the government has not developed a mutual legislative and institutional framework for refugees, which further results in numerous forms of physical, psychological, economic, and social deprivation. Furthermore, complex smuggling and human trafficking networks to Europe have shown the lack of coordination among states. States must work together to better control the frequent cross border flows.
A transnational approach between states is needed. The transnational approach differs from the conventional international approach. The latter emphasizes the role of the nation-state. (v) The former argues that states have an obligation to reach out to the private sector and mobilize powerful allies and resources to transform international governance to global governance. It allows transnational corporations and local enterprises to actively open job markets for new migrants. It allows refugees to receive training in language and other skills so that they can become productive members of society.
The current influx of Syrian refugees into Europe worries host countries. However, leaders should be more concerned about the poor treatment of refugees and the isolation of these camps, as they have contributed to rising animosity and the spread of transnational terrorist ideologies amongst displaced persons. Europe can learn from the problems Middle Eastern and North African countries have, and instead implement a more liberal cooperative approach. Not every refugee will turn into a terrorist, but, to combat future issues amongst discontent migrants, leaders need to acknowledge the factors at play and work collectively to ensure a peaceful resettlement of refugees to avoid further isolation.
Lingbo Zhao is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Government and International Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. She served as a reviewer for Politikon under the International Association for Political Science Students (IAPSS). During her Erasmus studies in Europe, she gained a passion for migration patterns, security studies, and transnational communities.
i. Bhonsle, Rahul K, Countering Transnational Terrorism (New Delhi: Vij Books India, 2011): 150.
ii.Martin-Rayo, Francisco, Countering Radicalization in Refugee Camps: How Education Can Help Defeat AQAP, Dubai Initiative (Working Paper, 2011): 9.
iii. Bhonsle, Rahul K, Countering Transnational Terrorism (New Delhi: Vij Books India, 2011): 150.
iv. Milton, Daniel, Megan Spencer, and Michael Findley, “Radicalism of the hopeless: Refugee flows and transnational terrorism”, International Interactions 39 (2013): 627.
v. Tarrow, Sidney, Transnational politics: Contention and institutions in international politics, Annual Review of Political Science 4 (2001): 1-20.