Criminals, not refugees
How Syrian activists are tracking down war criminals and terrorists
After the November 13 Paris attacks European authorities started fearing that ISIS members and other criminals would disguise themselves as refugees to reach Europe.
Again, after the New Year’s Eve mass sexual harassment attacks in Cologne, Germany, anti-refugee rhetoric has risen across Europe.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, 1 million migrants entered Europe in 2015 by December 21. The combination of rising numbers and fear that criminals and terrorists might use the refugees trails to reach Europe has lead many European states to reintroduce border controls or tougher legislation.
Those are criminals, not refugees.
The cry out does not come out only from rightwing groups, but also from Syrian refugees themselves.
Syrian and Iraqi refugees use Facebook groups to exchange information on their trips, ask for help if they are lost at sea, look for family members lost during the long journey.
Now, a group of activists is also using Facebook to gather information on criminals posing as refugees.
The “Criminals, not refugees” activists scan social media looking for evidences that Syrian war criminals — who served in President Bashar al-Assad’s army or militias — are now living freely in Europe.
Those people are Syrians fleeing war as well, but according to the UN Convention on refugees “people who have committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity” do not qualify for refugee status.
And in most cases, they do very little to hide evidences of their military past or war activities on social media.
The issue is much more complex, as admitted by UNHCR officers tasked with the screening of asylum-seekers coming from conflict areas.
“Generally speaking, members of Assad’s shabiha — the militias responsible for committing most of the atrocities in the conflict — and of the regular army should not qualify for refugee status,” a UNHCR officer explained.
“Being simply involved in a group that committed war crimes is not enough to be disqualified, they should have had some part in planning or executing war crimes.”
However, the Syrian regime’s war crimes are so well documented that, in the case of former members of Assad’s forces the real issue mostly comes down to one point.
“I would base my judgement on how they left Syria. Did they leave, risking their lives, at the first chance they had?
That is what I would ask to determine whether they enrolled voluntarily in the militias or whether they were forced to do so,” the officer said.
The truthfulness of the group’s claims cannot always be assessed. People exposed, quickly delete their public Facebook profile or hide pictures incriminating them.
It is often impossible to determine where exactly that person is in Europe.
A few profiles, however, have been exposed and verified, and the activists of “Criminals, not refugees” have denounced those alleged war criminals to the police.
In some cases, activists fear that those people were deliberately sent by Assad’s regime to Europe, in order to hunt down refugees or stage false flag terror attacks in Europe.
Syrian activists are also using social media to identify and denounce members of ISIS, who used the migrants’ routes to reach Europe.
In December, German police arrested an alleged terrorist with links to ISIS in Dortmund. Police was tipped-off by Syrian activists and refugees who had recognised him.
And now, refugee forums and Facebook groups are buzzing trying to help police catch those involved in the New Year’s Eve sex attacks.
Refugees are not criminals. And they are the first ones who don’t want criminals among them.