The recent terrorist attack in Paris and ongoing manhunt in Brussels have exposed just how polarised the migration debate has become in Europe. On one side, there are calls to close Europe's external borders, dismantle the Schengen agreement that permits free movement within the European Union, and revisit earlier commitments to resettle significant numbers of Syrian refugees in Europe. On the other, champions of migration in Europe are in denial that migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers have a role in the current insecurity in Europe, and that migration policies must be part of a security response.
Both perspectives are ill-informed, self-defeating, and dangerous.
Aside from a fake Syrian passport, there is no evidence that the Paris attacks were masterminded or perpetrated by migrants. Even if evidence does emerge, the dividends of migration in Europe clearly and demonstrably will continue to outweigh the risks. Closing Europe's external borders is not just undesirable but also impossible; while dismantling Schengen would be the death knell for the EU. But the migration proponents are equally myopic. Europe's recent history demonstrates that migrants and members of the diaspora can be terrorists. The rise of violent extremism in Europe is at least in part the result of a failure of integration. Migrants may not be to blame, but those located towards the bottom of Europe's sliding scale of social justice are susceptible to radicalization to violence.
By rushing to either end of the spectrum, neither side is serving its own purpose. One of the most striking aspects of Europe's response to the Syrian refugee crisis before Paris was citizen's mobilization to support them. In effect, Europeans were telling their political leaders to stop using them as an excuse for their anti-migration stance. Politicians would be well-advised to take note of this groundswell. There is a very powerful argument to make for managing migration more effectively, but it is not that migrants are terrorists. The shrillness of the advocates is equally self-defeating. No one confronted with unemployment, or growing pressures on housing or social welfare, has taken them seriously for years, so why should they now?
At one end of the spectrum, the danger is that extraordinary responses to migration will become justified. If migrants are viewed as a threat to national security, then military responses will be legitimate, development aid diverted, and human rights trespassed. By insisting that they are not and never can be, we willfully ignore the fact that migrants and refugees are at risk of radicalization to violence, and that integration in Europe has failed.
After Paris, what is most needed is a sensible debate on migration and terror. But as the noise at either end of the spectrum deafens out the middle ground, the space for that debate is rapidly disappearing.