THE BLOG

Tragedy in Paris: A More Compassionate Approach to Refugees Will Make Us All Safer

19/11/2015 17:45 GMT | Updated 19/11/2016 10:12 GMT

It's less than a week since a series of terrorist atrocities left 129 people dead, and hundreds more injured. France has been deeply shaken. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of all those involved. It was wonderful to see the solidarity of British football supporters on Tuesday night, when England and France came together in solidarity and defiance.

The details of how this happened are still emerging. France and many other countries including the UK are of course asking how we can minimise the risks of similar acts of terror.

Critics of Europe's response to the refugee crisis have been quick to seize on reports that at least one of the terrorists travelled through Greece on a fake Syrian passport. At present, it seems as if all the perpetrators may have been European citizens. Nevertheless some are arguing that in response to this tragedy Europe should tighten its borders and turn its back on some of the world's most vulnerable people.

President Francois Hollande of France just rejected that argument in the clearest possible way. He announced that France will honour its commitment to welcome 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years. It's an act of leadership that decisively rejects the suggestion that Europe should respond to this crisis by being less compassionate about the plight of refugees.

The refugee crisis is a symptom of war and conflict. Refugees are fleeing not just the unimaginable carnage of Iraq and Syria, but also violence and persecution across the world. On the eve of the Paris attacks, Beirut was left reeling when a terrorist attack claimed the lives of 43 people and left 250 injured. In Baghdad, Isis claimed responsibility for an attack at a funeral on Friday morning which left 18 dead.

Now more than ever we must remember that refugees are the victims of terror and violence, and not the perpetrators of it. Like President Hollande, our response to the Paris attacks must be to renew our commitment to help those fleeing that same terror.

Closing our borders and turning our backs on those fleeing war and persecution will do nothing to ensure our security. Indeed a considered response to this tragedy requires us to do more to help refugees fleeing war and persecution.

If anything, it is the lack of safe and legal routes for refugees that increases security risks. The Syrian refugees that have arrived in the UK this week have been rigorously screened by both the UN and the UK Home Office, as the Home Secretary has made clear. But far too few refugees have this option; and are therefore forced to resort to dangerous journeys to reach safety. Europe needs to establish more safe and legal routes across borders, to reflect the scale of crisis. Refugees need to be able to reach safety without risking their lives. It is in our interests that they do so.

The present system for processing and supporting refugees on arrival in Greece, Italy and elsewhere is clearly inadequate. Refugees need to be properly assessed on arrival, provided with support, and relocated to other countries in Europe so that the front-line countries do not have to take full responsibility. EU leaders have failed to achieve this step change despite a catalogue of summits discussing this issue.

Isis want us in Europe to turn our back on the plight of refugees. They want to divide our societies, to say that Europe does not show compassion. We must not yield to their provocation. Hatred cannot be allowed to breed more hatred. If we mistrust or even target refugees simply because of where they came from, our societies will be more divided, and less safe.

Over the summer we saw an inspiring groundswell of public sympathy towards refugees. We must not let terror dampen that spirit. Now is the time for a coordinated response to the refugee crisis that will help, not hinder, those fleeing war and persecution. President Hollande has shown us the way.