Huffington Post: Terrorism became the “vehicle” by which refugees became perpetrators instead of victims


by Sophia Ioannou,
Head of Communications & Fundraising, SolidarityNow

It was a little after 10.00 in the evening (local time) and the first sirens began to disrupt the serenity of the Montmartre suburb. This pandemonium of terrifying sounds increased as the time went by. I went online to read the first news which arrived in pieces, at a staggering speed – as result of the surprise and panic that prevailed in Paris at the time. Terrorist attacks, in different parts of the city, caused death and forced the country into a state of fear and insecurity. And at the same time, almost invisibly, and without a cause, the drama experienced by other people –namely, the refugees-, intermingled with terrorism and so the refugees became targets of certain phobic countries, thereby becoming perpetrators instead of victims.

I had just landed in Paris that morning. And I was one of fortunate ones who decided on the night of November 13 to stay in instead of walking around the decorated for Christmas Parisian streets. However, the announcement of the 136 deaths and the 352 injured, all of whom were innocent people, shocked me. The next day found Paris deserted, with empty streets, and its residents petrified by the terrorists. ISIS, which assumed the responsibility for the bloody attacks had achieved its goal: to terrorize and manifest its dominance in the heart of the United Europe. Paris still held fresh memories of the successive attacks, which took place at Charlie Hebdo, in January 2015. But now Paris was mourning the largest number of victims since World War II.
Each time an extremist Islamic attack takes place in the developed world, the issue monopolizes the news. But what about all those bloody attacks that occur in other countries of the world and whose victims are equally as innocent but are lost in silence and barely reach our newsfeeds? In 2014, most terrorist attacks occurred in Iraq (3,370), followed by Pakistan (1,821), Afghanistan (1,591) India, Nigeria and Syria.

Since 2011 Physicians for Human Rights record the war crimes in Syria, including violence against hospitals and health professionals -the vast majority of them occurring during the Assad government. Since the end of October 2015, there have been 329 attacks on health facilities in Syria where 687 people, medical and paramedical staff, died –some from the bombings targeting hospitals and ambulances, while others were shot in cold blood. More than 157 were executed or tortured to death. Just in the city of Aleppo, 95% of doctors either left the country, were arrested or killed. As with all terror attacks, these heinous acts which target citizens in an unprecedented exhibition of brutal force, was what led entire families to choose between two options: either to stay in the country and risk their lives, or to start the dangerous trip towards Europe, also risking death while pursuing the dream of a new life in peace and security.

Immediately after Paris, there were more terrorist attacks in Mali in Africa, while the regularity of life for the people in Belgium has been disrupted, as the country now finds itself in a state of emergency and at the highest alert, with tanks patrolling the streets.

These attacks became a “good pretense” for the dormant EU policies regarding the millions of desperate people, to fall back. The responsibility fell on the shoulders of the migrants and refugees. The open gates, open borders of Europe became “a threat” carrying terrorists to the heart of the EU. The climate of fear spread like thick fog, bolstering bigotry and hate speech.

I am a child of economic migrants. Yes, my parents were not forced to flee war and were not forced to leave home, loved ones and homeland in just a night. They left bankrupt, postwar Greece. They chose this road because they were free to pursue a better future for themselves and their child. Today, I feel proud that the Prime Minister of Canada, my birthplace, refuses to step back on his commitment to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015, despite the fact that the country’s politicians argue that the importance of national security matters most. “We continue to be very much committed to keeping Canadians safe while we do the right thing to engage responsibly on this humanitarian crisis”, said Justin Trudeau.

We must realize that refugees throughout this scenery of terror that spreads, are also victims themselves. And right now we are faced with the failure of the EU Member States to provide migrant populations the basics in order to safeguard their fundamental rights: safe and legal passages, shelter and food. And as long as this is not the case, hundreds of thousands of people will continue to pass through stormy seas on flimsy boats, to trust traffickers with their lives, to suffer exploitation by smugglers and to walk countless kilometers in search of safety and playing Russian roulette with death, diseases and violence.

Activism by international humanitarian organizations, individual or collective local initiatives, large-scale national programs such as those developed in Greece by SolidarityNow –such as the acceleration of asylum applications and the creation of a Center for temporary stay- aiming at the immediate relief of the refugees are all great initiatives, but not enough for a coordinated response. The priority is to proceed with the registration and direct and safe resettlement of 160,000 refugees, regardless of nationality and country of origin. Regardless of whether they are refugees or migrants.

Europe must stop raising new walls with the pretext of keeping terrorism out of its borders. We have already lost precious time. We have already lost many lives. And the boats here in Greece and the islands, bring ashore scores of people on a daily basis. Others, however, are swallowed by the sea. Forever.
For how long will our civilization and ethos allow this to happen?