MAASTRICHT. Migration and violent extremism. A politically sensitive and controversial topic, agreed Khalid Koser, professor in Conflict, Peace and Security at UNU-MERIT/Maastricht School of Governance. Still, he emphasised continuously during his lecture, organised on Monday 22 February by Studium Generale, its importance. “The discussion about migration and violent extremism is more intense, more dangerous and more ill-informed in Europe than anywhere else in the world.”
The current European migration debate seems to centre mainly on migration as a risk of infiltration of terrorists. Mr. Koser did recognise that risk – “if I were part of IS, I would probably also think of the option to put a couple of IS fighters on a boat to Greece” – but there is no evidence it is happening. And, more controversially, he wondered whether, even if among all those migrants there would be one or two terrorists, should that be a solid reason to close the borders for all other refugees fleeing away from terrorism in their countries?
Moreover, he says, there are other links between violent extremism and migration that need to be discussed. “The real challenges for Europe lie in averting the risk that failed integration leads to radicalisation. Hopeless, marginalised migrants, most often young men, are vulnerable to radicalisation. Especially the combination of lack of education, work and freedom of movement, which are often all present in refugee camps, is dangerous.”
Another issue is the possibility of violent extremism as a reaction to migration. If the reaction to the inflow of migrants gets out of hand, that would, to Professor Koser, be the only valid reason for Europe to put a halt to the inflow of migrants. Xenophobia and Islamophobia are on the rise and the extreme political right smartly plays into this trend, using people’s worries to fuel fear.
All is not lost though; Professor Koser encourages people to look at the bright side of things. “Migration could also be a solution to problems that Europe is facing: demographic deficits, for example, gaps in the labour market or economic crises. Migrants do not steal our jobs; instead, their arrival creates more jobs, while they can also fill vacancies that can’t be filled now. They bring more cake.”
Furthermore, by sending remittances to family members who stayed, migrants could lift them out of poverty, preventing marginalisation and decreasing the risk of radicalisation. In addition, sending messages home about the new (often higher) human rights standards migrants encounter in their new countries could lead to improvement of human rights standards in their countries of origin.
The lecture can be watched online: