Helen Martin: Refugee threat was so obvious

Refugees seek to cross the Greece-Macedonia border. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Refugees seek to cross the Greece-Macedonia border. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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AFTER the bodies of two refugee children were washed up on a Greek beach in September, I wrote a column that was among the toughest I had written in 25 years.

I was swimming against the tide of popular opinion, which at that point was largely supportive of opening our hearts, borders and communities to all those desperate refugees who had paid people smugglers to get them to Europe, Calais and ultimately to the UK.

I was – unusually for me – supportive of David Cameron who was proceeding with caution, and too slowly for many of his critics. His plan, now being put into action, was to accept far fewer refugees than, for example, Germany which had already welcomed thousands, and crucially to only accept those from the UN camps around Syria, where preliminary checks had already been made on their identities and refugee status.

The toughest part for me was what I didn’t write for fear of scaremongering, although I did discuss it with friends and colleagues. Holding back may have been sensible but I also felt I was being cowardly. Because it seemed obvious at the time that the flood of refugees, many of whom understandably arrived in Europe without ID and documentation, was a gift to Islamic State terrorists.

The crisis could and would be used by them as a Trojan horse, a means of sending their operatives all over Europe.

That poses a horrifying dilemma –do we turn our backs on those fleeing persecution to save our own skins? Or, to put it another way, do we risk the lives of our own citizens to help those escaping from torture, bombing and enforced displacement?

And that is where David Cameron got it right, by choosing a carefully considered middle route.

I cannot be the only one who was surprised that the risks of an open-door policy such as Germany’s were never discussed publicly by politicians, talking heads on political discussion programmes, or anyone else. The same applies to the passport-free Schengen zone allowing free travel to all but six countries, of which the UK is one.

Only now, when we know one of the Paris killers arrived in Europe on a “refugee ticket”, is that discussion taking place with many, even within the German parliament, openly questioning Angela Merkel’s decision to fling open the gates and roll out the welcome mat.

Also under question now is scrapping or limiting the Schengen zone and re-examining Turkey’s admission to the EU after their football fans shouted jihadi chants during a minute’s silence for Paris victims held before a match against Greece.

Most of us want to help genuine refugees. We all know that, despite its name, Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam and the vast majority of God-fearing Muslims any more than IRA atrocities had to do with ordinary Catholics. Europe is being redrawn by IS against our will. And even though these measures under discussion amount to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, what option do we have? Better late than never.

Mr Cameron’s refugee policy doesn’t guarantee our safety from terrorist attack – nothing can. But at least we have some assurance that the refugees arriving in Scotland now are genuine families from the camps seeking safety who we can welcome and support, not pre-radicalised forces of evil whose sole intention is to blow us to kingdom come.