Will Germany and the UK honor their commitment to migrants?

Questions have been raised by many over whether Europe should continue to accept refugees traveling from countries such as Syria

Peter Harrison
Peter Harrison - Al Arabiya News
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As the dust settled across Europe following Friday’s bloody attacks in Paris, the issue of the refugee crisis resurfaced, along with the openness of the region’s borders.

Poland was one of the first to voice its concerns, stressing that it could no longer agree to the EU-wide quota commitment to relocate migrants.

More recently, Sweden this week was pushing for biometric passport controls at Schengen borders, amid concerns that there needed to be tighter security on Europe’s external borders.

But both Germany and the UK have told Al Arabiya News that while they too have stepped up security on their borders, they remain committed to taking in refugees.

A spokesman for the German Ministry of Interior told Al Arabiya News: “In the last couple of days border controls have been reinforced, especially on the borders to France and Belgium. Our French colleagues had asked us to reinforce border controls with them.”

And he added that on Friday the German government had deployed a further 150 federal police officers on the border between Bavaria and Austria – although he refused to give further details.

Questions have been raised by many over whether Europe should continue to accept refugees traveling from countries such as Syria, in light of Friday’s attacks.

The concerns were magnified after a passport was found by the remains of one of the suicide bombers who struck outside the Stade de France. It was feared that he masqueraded as a refugee traveling through Greece, although it was later believed that the passport may have belonged to a Syrian regime soldier killed several months ago.

In the UK, some Britons have signed an online petition calling for the reversal of plans to take in more refugees. It is a concern that is mirrored by some across Europe.

But the German Ministry of Interior spokesman said that his country remained committed to taking in refugees.

But he added: “The people who work with the refugees are struggling with the numbers… With winter coming it is becoming increasingly difficult to find suitable accommodation for everyone.

“We are interested in lowering the numbers, or getting more control over how many people come and who exactly is coming - but we are not closing the borders and we are still welcoming to people who are seeking protection.”

Earlier in 2015 the refugee crisis became a major story – much of the right wing western press had previously talked about the steady stream of migrants trying to cross through Europe in very negative terms.

But in September, a photo came to light of the body of three-year-old Syrian Kurd Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach. Suddenly the attitudes of the world appeared to change, almost instantly.

Newspapers suddenly took on a humanitarian stance, calling for more to be done to help the refugees and countries across Europe agreed to take on these people who had fled countries such as Syria.

But even then, there were those that feared that members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) could easily blend in with the thousands as they travelled across Europe, to carry out attacks.

There are calls in Britain from some to close the borders to migrants – in the days that followed the attacks a petition was being circulated on social media calling on the British government to do just that.

Al Arabiya News contacted the office of the British Prime Minister David Cameron to ask if the country had any plans to change its recently announced pledge to take in 20,000 refugees before the next general election.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “Border security has been stepped up in the light of the Paris attacks, including: Increased scanning of inbound freight vehicles and intensifying the search of vehicles.”

She said there had been an increase in the “number of border force staff at ports and added dog resources at St Pancras” – the terminal for the Eurostar rail link service that connects the UK with France.

She said that in UK waters, there were vessels ready to intercept any suspicious watercraft.

On the issue of migrants, she told Al Arabiya News: “The UK remains committed to 1,000 Syrian refugee arrivals by Christmas and 20,000 over the course of the Parliament. The PM has made the case for the UK’s resettlement program and will continue to do so.”

She explained that there was a series of security checks in place forming a two-stage screening process.

“First, the UNHCR experts working on the ground conduct security and criminality checks,” she said, adding: “including taking biometric details. Second, the Home Office conducts its own security checks, also including the provision of biometric material.”

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