Terrorists once again struck the heart of Europe. Dozens of people were killed in attacks on the Brussels airport and a metro station near the heart of the European Union.
There is still a great deal we do not know about these attacks. But, based on previous experience, we can deduce some of the near term political repercussions to refugee policy.
The last major terrorist strike in Europe, the November Paris attacks, caused an international backlash against refugees and migrants from the Middle East. This is despite the fact that the Paris attackers were actually European nationals and not refugees (though some of the attackers did sneak back into Europe, posing as refugees). In Europe, more restrictive measures were put in place to prevent and deter the movement of refugees across borders, particularly in Southern Europe. In Denmark, parliament even passed a measure to punish any refugee or migrant caught in the country with the confiscation of that person’s valuables.
In the USA, several governors said they would refuse to settle Syrian refugees in their states. The federal government passed new restrictions on the visa-waiver program, which provides for visa-free travel to the USA from nationals of many European countries.
We know that in the past, these attacks have had profound political consequences. So we can expect the same in the near future. More proximately, just last week EU politicians in Brussels passed an extraordinary measure in which the EU promised Turkey a big financial package and some other incentives, and in exchange Turkey would accept tens of thousands of refugees currently stuck in Greece. That move was denounced by the United Nations and human rights groups for the fact that the whole-scale transfer of refugees back to the country from which they fled contravenes most international refugee law. It passed anyway.
The thing is, the controversial measure was always going to be difficult to implement and enforce. The rounding up and processing of tens of thousands of refugees in Greece would require a great deal of effort and political will by EU member states. It was unclear if the measure would actually be implemented in any meaningful way as there was likely to be some foot dragging my EU member states less enthusiastic about the refugee transfer deal.
But now, after this attack in Brussels one near-term immediate political consequence of this horrific attack could be the expediting of efforts to forcibly remove thousands of refugees stuck in Greece and sending them back to Turkey.
Once again, a dispiriting outcome of this new attack may be to once again diminish solidarity with refugees fleeing war and conflict in the Middle East.