Refugees Are Not the Enemy

News and social media feeds worldwide have been consumed by the devastating waves of violent attacks in Paris and Beirut, which took and maimed hundreds of innocent lives and seems to have left all of us reeling.

It has been incredible to see people from all corners of the world unite in voicing their support for all of those affected by these transgressions against humanity, but it has also sparked a passionate debate over who and what is responsible for the attacks, and how we can prevent them in the future.

This passion was evident in recent bold statements made by French president Francois Hollande promising retribution against ISIS, who is believed to be responsible for the heinous acts.

"It's an act of war, committed by a terrorist army Daesh (ISIS), an army of Jihadists, against France," Hollande said. "We will lead the fight, and we will be ruthless, and we had to be here among the people who were subject to these atrocities because when the terrorists are capable of doing such acts they must know that they will face a France very determined -- a France united."

But in the whirlwind of dialogue that has ensued, some people have made startling and borderline islamophobic accusations blaming migrants for the carnage. Republican congressman Jeff Duncan and actor Rob Lowe were among many who published messages implying that France's acceptance of refugees was the cause of the terrorist attacks.

"How's that Syrian refugee resettlement look now?" Duncan Tweeted. "How about that mass migration into Europe? Terrorism is alive & well in the world. #No"

Not only are these posts concerning because they exhibit a fundamental misunderstanding of what these millions of people are fleeing to begin with, but they also support governments that have decided to shut their doors to refugees in the wake of the latest attacks.

While this knee-jerk reaction of countries to close their borders to immigrants might appear on the surface to be a wise move, the truth is that we're just compounding the problem. And it may be true that ISIS is using the refugee crisis to infiltrate other countries--but would they have been able to do so if we had been properly relocating the displaced?

Terrorist organizations are fueled by fear and chaos, and they have exploited the war in Syria from the very beginning. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been forced out of their homes by ISIS and similar groups. They prey upon all those who remain in the region for recruitment, offering money and shelter to desperate refugees who reside in poorly maintained refugee camps.

One former member said that for allegiance, recruits are sometimes given "a house with free electricity and water provided to you due to the Khilafah (the caliphate or state) and no rent included."

It's also been reported that ISIS actively recruits refugees who are fleeing into Europe, particularly children who are in dire need of connections and support. Many of these people were separated from their families as a result of European countries' struggle to organize, identify, and transport incoming migrants safely and efficiently.

Last month, I interviewed Carol Malouf, a journalist who recently filmed a documentary of her expedition with migrants travelling from Syria to Europe; she warned me about countries' lax identification standards. "You go to the camp, and nobody takes your identification. You can pretend to be anybody," Malouf said. "You give any name to UNHCR, and it becomes your displaced identity."

This month, I set off on a journey to see the plight of the refugees for myself. The first stop on my trip was Slovenia, one of the smaller European countries that have allegedly employed means such as pepper spray to deter uncooperative migrants.

Sadly, volunteers providing aid at the camp told me that even Arab governments provided little help to transport and care for the displaced. Mohammad, an aid worker in the town of Dobova at the Slovenia-Croatia border, wondered how Turkey is allowing the departure of boats from its shores knowing the chaos happening in Europe. Is it the refugees who are to blame for not being properly taken care of, or is it actually our neglect that has bred an environment ripe for ISIS recruitment?

By villainizing refugees who have already lost their families, homes, and lives, we are unknowingly playing into the hands of terrorist organizations who love to see us fight one another. The only way to truly solve these issues is by solving the refugee crisis, and focusing our efforts to finding more ways to fight ISIS and any other factions responsible for the loss of innocent life.

As long as governments continue to allow millions of people to suffer through displacement, radical organizations will be able to manipulate them into tools of destruction. We shouldn't be turning our backs on these people--we should be motivated now more than ever to unify our global resources and finally solve a world crisis that has continued for far too long.