1 Million Migrate to Europe in 2015, and Now German Police Warn of Terrorism

The Islamic State controls passport offices in parts of Syria and Iraq.

More than 10,000 refugees waited for 13 hours in the cold rain to cross the border from Sid, Serbia, to Croatia on Oct. 10. (TakePart exclusive photo: Maro Kouri)

Dec 22, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Paul Tullis is TakePart's Features Editor, and a Contributing Writer for The New York Times Magazine.

The International Organization of Migration announced Monday that the number of migrants and refugees to enter Europe through “irregular” means this year has passed 1 million, a 400 percent increase over 2014. War, poverty, persecution, and rules in Middle Eastern countries against refugees holding legitimate jobs have prompted many to leave their homes in countries from Ukraine to Senegal and even camps built to house those fleeing war in Syria. More than 800,000 of those entering Europe came through Greece, mostly via a route from Turkey to the island of Lesbos. Others crossed by sea into Italy and Spain, by land from Turkey to Bulgaria, and even by bicycle from Russia to Norway.

FULL COVERAGE: The Global Refugee Crisis

Meanwhile, German police have warned Chancellor Angela Merkel that the inability to properly fingerprint so many crossing into the country and otherwise control the border means they have “no idea who enters the country, under what name, and for what reason,” reports global news site Worldcrunch. Jörg Radek of the Police Trade Union wrote in a letter to Merkel that federal police are “not capable of exercising their duty of danger prevention and law enforcement at the German-Austrian borders the way they are legally bound to.”

An article last week in the German newspaper Die Welt described how the self-proclaimed Islamic State now controls passport offices in parts of Iraq and Syria, leading Fabrice Leggeri, who heads the European Union’s border control agency Frontex, to tell the paper that “the validity of refugee passports from our view is very limited.” Leggeri said it would be “wrong” to “impose a general suspicion” that refugees may be dangerous but that under current conditions in Syria there is no guarantee that passports “were actually issued by an official authority [and are] really carried by the rightful owner.” Fake documents are relatively easy to spot. The problem is with genuine Syrian passports that have been issued by ISIS.

Worldcrunch reported that an unidentifed source at the German Interior Ministry said, “Considering the large number of immigrants, it can’t be ruled out that among them could be criminals [or] members of militant groups or terrorist organizations.”

Refugees and migrants have been entering Europe in greater numbers since around the turn of the millenium. As Frontex increased security measures along some routes, such as West Africa to the Canary Islands, those fleeing poverty, war, or persecution at home began to exploit instability in Libya after its 2011 revolution and left on boats from Tripoli. In the summer of 2013, hundreds of passengers aboard such boats, many from Eritrea, drowned in the crossing, particularly around Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa. With the danger of the longer crossing apparent and the war in Syria growing worse, the route shifted north to Turkey. Nonetheless, more than 3,300 had drowned trying to get to Lesbos as of the end of October.

President Obama has pledged to receive 10,000 refugees from Syria, while the House of Representatives passed a bill to ban any from coming to the U.S., citing the threat of terrorism. Many Syrians are themselves fleeing ISIS.

Refugees entering the U.S. must undergo a complex and comprehensive screening process that can last two years or longer. That and the country’s geographic isolation make it substantially less vulnerable to such a threat—which, one official source told Worldcrunch, has existed for decades in Europe because of an open border within EU nations.

While Europe’s share of migrants and refugees is now more than 1.25 million, the majority remain in the Middle East—refugees are now about 20 percent of the population of Lebanon, 2.2 million live in Turkey, and more than 600,000 are in Jordan, including 80,000 at a single camp, Zataari. Worldwide, there are now more than 60 million people displaced from their homes, an all-time high.

“I don’t understand why people are insisting that this is a European problem,” Michael Moller, director of the U.N. office in Geneva, said at a news conference Tuesday. “This is a global issue.”