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Kristian Alexander: The Endogenous Correlation between Immigration and Security and the Example of Germany

Dr Kristian Alexander is a Senior Fellow at the Rabdan Security & Defence Institute (RSDI), Abu Dhabi, UAE. He is an adviser at Gulf States Analytics, a Washington-based geopolitical risk consultancy. He previously worked as a Senior Fellow at Trends Research & Advisory and before that as an Assistant Professor at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. He has co-edited the book Aspects of Security in the United Arab Emirates, published by Routledge. His papers have been published in numerous outlets, such as the Middle East Institute, The Arab Gulf States Institute, the Atlantic Council, Gulf International Forum, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Cambridge Middle East and North America Forum, Middle East Institute Singapore, the Institute for Security & Development Policy, Stimson Center, and many others. His research examines security-related issues in the Middle East, with a particular interest in the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Exploring the Correlation from a National Perspective


The connection between immigration and security is a complex and often contentious topic that encompasses various dimensions, including economic, social, cultural, and security concerns.


Countries typically implement stringent security measures to screen immigrants, aimed at identifying individuals who might pose a security threat, such as those with known links to terrorist organizations. Effective screening can help prevent potential terrorists from entering a country. This is  a way of avoiding risk at its source.


Immigration management is also an important part of the process when immigrants enter the country. A key concern is the integration of immigrants into the host society. Poor integration can lead to feelings of alienation and marginalization, which, in some cases, might contribute to radicalization. Studies have shown that well-integrated immigrant communities are less likely to harbor individuals who turn to extremism. Immigration can impact how resources are allocated for national security. High volumes of immigration may stretch the resources of immigration services and law enforcement, potentially impacting their ability to maintain security effectively. Immigrants often maintain ties to their countries of origin. While these networks can have positive effects, such as fostering economic ties, they can also potentially facilitate the transnational operations of terrorist groups. The perception of immigration as a security threat can influence public opinion and political discourse, sometimes resulting in stricter immigration policies. However, this perception needs to be carefully managed to avoid xenophobia and discrimination against immigrants, which can undermine social cohesion and security.


Empirical research on the direct connection between immigration and increased terrorism is mixed. While some studies suggest that there is little to no direct causal link between higher levels of immigration and increased terrorist activity, others point to specific instances where immigrant groups have been involved in terrorist acts.


How Illegal Immigration Leads to Terrorism


The connection between illegal immigration and security is often discussed in the context of how unauthorized entry or overstaying visas can pose challenges to a nation's ability to manage and monitor its borders effectively. The main scenarios can be summed up as follows:

1.Illegal immigration complicates the task of tracking individuals within a country. Without a formal record of entry or residence, it becomes difficult for security agencies to know who is in the country and what their backgrounds might be. This can create gaps in security, potentially allowing individuals with harmful intentions to evade detection.

2.Illegal immigrants often rely on smuggling networks to cross borders. These networks can also be used by terrorists to move operatives or materials across borders undetected. For example, the 2015 attacks in Paris were partially carried out by individuals who had reportedly entered Europe posing as refugees, using smuggling routes to travel across borders without detection.

3.Illegal immigrants may use forged or stolen documents to enter or stay in a country. Such practices can also be exploited by terrorists to obtain false identities, complicating efforts to track and stop them. The 9/11 attackers, for instance, used fraudulent documents to live and prepare for the attacks within the United States.


In some cases, large communities of illegal immigrants, especially if poorly integrated, might provide a cover or recruiting ground for terrorist groups. Terrorist organizations might exploit the vulnerabilities of these individuals, such as lack of legal status, to coerce them into cooperation. An example of that is the 2015 Paris Attacks which saw several attackers reportedly entered Europe using fake Syrian passports and travelled along migrant routes, highlighting issues with security checks amidst high migrant flows.


It's important to emphasize that the vast majority of immigrants, whether legal or illegal, do not engage in terrorist activities. Effective policy solutions should target security gaps directly without stigmatizing entire groups of people.


An Example: Syrian and Afghan Immigrants in Germany


Over the last few years, Germany has faced significant challenges and undergone substantial changes in its approach to immigration, particularly with respect to Syrian and Afghan immigrants.


Germany famously opened its borders in 2015 during the refugee crisis, welcoming over one million refugees, many from Syria, Afghanistan, and other war-torn countries. This move, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, was initially praised for its humanitarian approach. The main manifestation of this was the government's  significant investment in integration programmes, including language and vocational training, to help migrants adapt to life in Germany and gain employment. The focus is on facilitating long-term integration into German society.


Syrian and Afghan immigrants, in particular, have faced significant challenges in integrating into German society. The lack of recognition of university degrees, language barriers, and cultural differences have all contributed to the difficulties faced by these immigrants. Many economists argue that the German labor market needs an annual immigration of 400,000 skilled workers, highlighting the potential benefits of immigration for the country's economy. However, the sudden influx of a large number of refugees placed a strain on Germany's social services and housing systems, challenging the capacity of local communities to absorb and integrate new arrivals.


Concerns about security were heightened by several incidents involving immigrants. Notably, the 2016 Berlin Christmas market attack by an asylum seeker who had pledged allegiance to ISIS brought sharp criticism of the government's immigration policies. There have also been several other smaller scale incidents of violence and crime involving immigrants, which have influenced public perception and policy. Germany has faced challenges with deporting individuals whose asylum claims were rejected, particularly when their countries of origin are unstable or refuse to take them back. Issues of crime involving immigrant communities have also been a sensitive topic, influencing political and public discourse. Besides, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is far-right and anti-immigration, gained significant traction in response to the refugee crisis, entering the Bundestag in 2017. The party has capitalized on public fears about immigration, integration, and security.


While there was significant goodwill towards refugees initially, public opinion has seen shifts, particularly following high-profile crimes or terrorist activities linked to immigrants. This has resulted in a more polarized debate about immigration, with increasing calls for stricter immigration controls. In response to the various challenges and changing public sentiment, the German government has tightened its asylum policies and increased deportations of rejected asylum seekers. It has also enhanced measures to monitor and prevent radicalization among immigrant populations.


Germany's experience with Syrian and Afghan immigrants highlights the complex interplay between humanitarian goals, integration efforts, and security challenges. The political discourse around immigrants in Germany reflects broader tensions seen globally, where the benefits of welcoming refugees are weighed against potential security risks and cultural integration challenges.


Another Example: Muslim immigrants in Germany


Germany has been dealing with a significant number of Muslim immigrants over the past few years, with the Muslim population estimated to be between 5.3 and 5.6 million, representing around 6.4 to 6.7% of the total population. The Muslim community in Germany is diverse, with the majority claiming Turkish roots, while others originate from Arab countries such as Morocco or Lebanon. Germany's approach to dealing with Muslim immigrants has evolved significantly over the past few years, especially in the wake of the 2015 refugee crisis when the country saw a substantial increase in the number of Muslim immigrants, particularly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Many Muslims in Germany have reported facing discrimination in various forms, from verbal abuse to physical attacks. This environment can create a challenging atmosphere for individuals trying to integrate into society. 


Efforts have been made to accommodate cultural and religious practices within the German legal framework, such as allowing the construction of mosques and permitting religious practices in public spaces and institutions like schools. Mosques and Muslim community organizations have often taken proactive roles in promoting integration and intercultural dialogue. Many mosques serve not only as places of worship but also as community centers offering language classes, legal aid, and counseling services. There is also a significant level of cooperation between Muslim community leaders and German authorities to address security concerns, prevent radicalization, and enhance the community’s integration into German society. However, some studies also identify the role played by mosque associations as a challenge, with some of these associations controlled and funded directly from Turkey, a system that must be abolished according to some German politicians.



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