Recently I cam across a very interesting research paper on the link between migration and terrorism entitled; Links between Terrorism and Migration: An Exploration by Alex P. Schmid. I recommend reading it particularly the stats scattered around the content as it really puts some perspective onto this subject rather relying on hypothetic’s we seem to always get from people with clear agendas. What I’ve done here is to summarise takeaway points mixed with my own comments in green text, so here goes;

Migration Numbers and Projections:  There are almost 1 billion migrants; 740 million internal and 215 million international migrants driven by economic, environmental and political factors, with numbers likely to increase due to these issues not being addressed. In terms of forced migration which is our focus here, within 3 years people displacement rose by 40%, from 42.5 million – 59.5 million.

EU Migration Increases: One of the sharpest increases of people applying for refugee status to Europe was between 2013 – 2014 increasing from 435,000 to 626,000. With multiple crisis in Africa and the ME migration pressure towards Europe is likely to increase with the German government making the “technical assumption” that by 2020 3.6 million would arrive in Germany alone.

Challenges in Migration Controls:  In some cases border law enforcement have been able to obtain fingerprints from only a fraction-about 10%-of the migrants. In many cases Syrian passports were false or stolen and according to sources ISIS got hold of up to 250,000 blank Iraqi passports/equipment to produce individualised originals. It is also a fact that few asylum seekers and economic migrants-ones who paid up to 6000 euros to smugglers-have in past years been returned to their country of origin after asylum claims were rejected.

The Poverty Link to Migration: There are some who argue that there is a link between poverty and migration. Though author of the paper does not see this link in my view it is not rocket science to understand that there is a link between economic disparity and economic migrants. It is therefore critical that we address questions related to economic development in countries/regions that contribute heavily to migrant flows.

Causes of Migration in Post Cold War Period

  • Global wealth imbalance
  • Demographic explosion coupled with economic stagnation
  • Global unemployment
  • Environmental destruction
    • Inundations
    • Desertification
    • Deforestation
    • Water Shortage
  • Changing warfare tactics (civilians as targets)
  • Exclusive nationalism & religious intolerance/cleansing
  • Flourishing smuggling/trafficking low risk business
  • Ethnic diasporas in global cities forming bridgeheads for voluntary legal migration

Causes/Objectives of Non-State Terrorism

  • Awakening revolutionary spirits/revolts
  • Revenge for injustice-particularly against repressive authoritarian regimes-suffered by group with which terrorists identify
  • Protest against foreign policy
  • Provocation of repression against segment of society to gain recruits
  • Alienation, marginalisation and humiliation within society (or segment of society)
  • Conducting deniable proxy war against adversary

State Terrorism as Cause of Migration: Terrorism of this nature primarily involves state responses towards unsuccessful revolutions leading to enhanced state repression bordering on regime terrorism. This type of terrorism is one of the leading drivers behind refugee flows and internally displaced persons (IDPs) where it is estimated that 92% of all terrorist attacks between 1989-2014 occurred in countries where violent political terror is widespread.

Turning a blind eye of many governments to state terrorism of allied regimes, combined with the general state fixation on non-state terrorist actors, has contributed to overlooking one of the most powerful drivers of forced migration-regime or state terrorism and which eventually leads to non-state terrorism. I have written extensively about this issue and how our politician have contributed directly to foreign conflicts and subsequently to migration flows. So in a sense we have a huge bill to pay back when it comes to supporting asylum seekers/migrants until such time our politicians gain the wisdom to end their support for dictators because whatever gains we reap in business with these nations we pay 10 folds in economic, social and security vulnerabilities.

State Failure as cause of Terrorism & Migration: Fragile, weak/failing states where the government is unable to maintain law/order is another cause associated with terrorism. The result of such failures tends to give rise to vigilantism by private armed militias who often apply terrorist tactics including ethnic cleansing; Libya post Arab Spring uprising in 2011 is a prime example of this where IS has begun abducting economic migrants from Sudan, Eritrea and West Africa en route through the Sahara to Europe-this presents a serious problem. I also made a proposition on how we can prevent this “failed state” scenario from happening again while encouraging states to apply more democratic/progressive governance through a Program I call Progressive Governance Initiative.

Non-State Terrorism as Cause for Migration (Identity-based Displacement): Displacement through fear of violence is exactly what some perpetrators of terrorism have in mind. This link applied when ISIS took control over Mosul in 2014 declaring it a Caliphate of IS where the population declined by 1.5 million. The same link applied to Turkey in the 1990’s where the state & Kurdish insurgents clashed. As people flee from conflict regions they seek assistance of facilitators which in most cases are criminal smugglers with evidence indicating such smugglers sharing profit with terrorist organisations. Islamic State itself profits from both returning jihadists and regular asylum seekers forming an entire industry in fabricating passports stolen in Syria and Iraq. Breaking up the complete terrorism infrastructure/finances is key in eliminating terrorism. This has to be an ongoing battle to ensure that whenever vulnerabilities occur they are quickly/effectively covered.

War as Cause for Terrorism & Migration: The Armed Conflict Survey 2015 lists 37 conflicts with 167,000 fatalities – half in the Middle East and a third in Syria, while in 2014 there were 42 conflicts with 180,000 fatalities; 53% in Syria, 12% in Iraq and 12% in Afghanistan.

It is also important to note that foreign interventions made matters worse, prolonging conflict and leading to the use of asymmetric tactics by resistance groups – terrorism being one of these. A good example of this is the massive intervention by Russian air force between late September 2015-March 2016 on the side of Assad which produced mass displacements according to UNHCR reports which indicated 75,000 persons fled from air bombardment in February 2016 alone.

The Role of Refugee Camps: There are camps in 125 countries with an average lifespan of 17 years-though the camps were originally intended as temporary structures. The camps are generally under-policed and synonymous with misery/lack of perspective and thus become breeding ground for terrorism; particularly where half the refugee population is under 18 years old.

Lebanon’s Syrian refugee population amounts to a quarter of the country’s total population and it is claimed they have been infiltrated by Islamic jihadists. There is suggestion that there are people involved in recruitment of fighters in refugee camps and that some governments are known to use them for this exact purpose particularly where camps are in direct contact with fighters from ongoing conflicts.

The Role of Diasporas: This is where migrants exiled from their home country for political reasons live legally in the hosting countries and form diasporas, mainly in urban areas. Within diasporas radicalisation can happen in the host country as a result of visiting Salafist (radical Islamic sect) mosques and preachers or after meeting with war veterans from Middle East conflict zones. Following are numbers of foreign fighters  involved in conflict zones broken up by category/region;

  • Western Diasporas (6,000+)
  • Former Soviet Union (4,700)
  • Southeast Asia (900)
  • Maghreb (8,000)
  • Middle East (8,245)   

Generational Differences between Muslim Migrants: While first generation of Muslim immigrants to Europe/West-in many cases labor migrants-were mainly conservative/apolitical, their children-the second generation-found themselves often unable to to integrate into the host society and found it equally difficult to identify with traditional views of their Muslim parents which led to their radicalisation and identifying with jihadist groups in conflict zones. Among factors contributing to this trend include;

  • Brutality in suppressing decent during the Arab Spring uprising, convincing many that non-violent change was not possible.
  • The unjustified invasion of Iraq 2003 convincing many that Islam was under attack.

I mentioned the importance of Integration as a critical factor in eliminating extremism on many posts here because I’ve been quite frustrated by how western governments seem to do very little to address this issue. So here is what I assert; the more we invest in resources (human/financial) to address the issue of Integration, the less the human sacrifice we are likely to suffer and the more successful we will be in achieving real progress on core social, economic and security matters. 

Portability of Conflicts: When leaving their country of origin migrants are rarely able to leave their past behind, where previous animosities/prejudices continue in the new host country. This is particularly the case where state repression rather than war has driven people abroad, and a standoff ensues between economic migrants and political migrants in continuation of their home conflict; case in point is the are the clashes between Turkish migrants in Germany and Kurdish political migrants/asylum seekers.     

Another mechanism leading towards importing foreign conflicts into our national echo system is through native politicians possibly supported by powerful lobby groups who’s purpose is to sway policy & public opinion towards one side of a foreign conflict over another; we see this clearly when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the way it has influenced politicians in the UK & within British parties where there are groupings siding to view or another within the same party-this is ridiculous in my humble opinion and I’ve raised this while being a member of the Liberal Democrats but to no avail.

Host Country Xenophobia as Cause for Terrorism: Xenophobia as reaction to asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants takes 2 directions

  • Directly targeting asylum seekers and economic migrants
  • Targeting liberals and social-democrats who demonstrate the willingness to welcome them

German authorities reported 900 such incidents in 2015-30% more than 2014. As the demographic composition of host societies in some urban areas change under the impact of irregular immigration, polarisation between nationalistic and more internationalist groups might lead to more acts of horizontal terrorism between them.

The Wandering Terrorists: The rise of the global Jihadism in the last 30 years has led to a situation where jihadists move from one conflict zone to another; Afghanistan to Bosnia, from Chechnya to Syria etc. They are wandering terrorist partly because of the threat of arrest if they return home and partly because jihad has become for them a way of life. One of the reasons of the movement of fighters is lack of maneuverability when they are pinned down by military force as they currently in Iraq. It is at that stage where they consider moving to other regions where they are able to regroup and develop new grounds as what seems to be happening both Libya and Egypt. As such it is critical that all safe havens are eliminated for these groups by providing military & intelligence support to nations affected by such vulnerability. It is also I believe important to have rapid deployment special forces near to conflict zones and possibly to develop joint military tactics with forces of these nations through exercise to ensure effective intervention where appropriate.

Migrants’ Offspring Radicalising into Terrorism:  People of migrant origins living in the west can turn to terrorism if not fully integrated in host societies by developing resentment /anger that making them turn to the host society. That said, the short-term likelihood that recent refugees arriving in Western Europe become radicalised is very low as the majority of migrants have nothing to do with terrorism an have indeed suffered from it. However, there is a danger that some irregular migrants who stay illegal in the EU might be recruited by either criminal or terrorist (or hybrid) networks.

State Provocation as a cause for Terrorism: Terrorism is often a strategy of provocation. Part of the terrorist calculus is to provoke law enforcement/security forces in using heavy-handed approach that targets an entire sector of society that the terrorists are associated with-potentially opening the doors for new recruits. There are other numerous examples of state military services provoked into such tactics; US military attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistani military attacks on Pakistani Taliban  and in Syria Assad’s attacks on moderate fighters.

EU Migration Controls & the Weakest Link: Within the Schengen region there is a frontier made up of 42,672 km of land and 8,826 km of coastline, yet Frontex the organisation for European border control had until recently to do with merely 310 personnel and an annual budget of 114 million euros. It is equally important to note that for Schengen members their borders are only as strong as their weakest link, particularly in Italy & Greece. In addition we need to remember that there is no organic link between international migration and terrorism and the very few instances of terrorist posing as refugees should be seen as what they are-exceptions. Giving the opposite/false perception about this link only creates anxiety and rage in immigrant societies and increases hostile feelings towards the state and xenophobic feelings towards migrants.


The key to properly address the migrant crisis is focusing on 4 core issues;

  1. Resolving military conflicts that have resulted in the displacement of millions of people around the world and sparing no efforts/expense in this direction through creative political settlements and initiatives like the one mentioned above.
  2. Ensuring contributions for the UNHCR dedicated towards refugee camps in the Middle East like Jordan and Lebanon are sufficient.
  3. Ensuring EU member states agree to a fair burden-sharing scheme taking into account it’s recipient country’s carrying capacity. It is also important to press rich gulf states to share in this burden and possibly be the primary destination for refugees.
  4. Ensure asylum seekers make a solemn commitment to respect host countries laws of the land and political culture/values. It is also crucial to develop a medium term cultural program for new migrants to ensure they are able to adapt to new the culture/environment within the host nation and there is a sufficient support structure to help start a new productive life.

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