The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Educating Europe’s refugees as important as feeding them

More than a million refugees have arrived in Europe from around the world, who may be deemed as easy prey for extremist groups.

These groups reached Europe before the influx of refugees and they enjoy greater freedom of expression. They are also more engaged in social activities. The more recent refugees, on the other hand, went to Europe in search of a new life. Yet, many of them may end up becoming the target of extremists looking to expand their presence. They are intent on producing terrorists and spreading an extremist ideology that turns these refugees into opponents of the very society they live in.

Ever since Syrians started fleeing their war-ravaged country in large numbers, they headed to Europe via Turkey. This marked the beginning of a new phase in the crisis, which will probably continue even if the Syrian conflict is resolved. A million refugees, most of whom Syrians, is not a big number in a continent inhabited by around 300 million people. The number is also not a complication for Germany, the biggest refugee hosting country, as its huge economy can sustain them. But the challenge posed by these refugees is bigger on intellectual, social and security fronts.

What is as important is educating them so that they integrate with society easily and confront attempts by extremists to radicalize them.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

There are real threats facing these refugees who are victims of the repulsive war which has unjustly displaced more than 10 million Syrian people and a few million Iraqis. The refugees in Europe are vulnerable to exploitation and to being used in this game which is getting more complicated and dangerous. There are powers fighting over them in Europe such as those who oppose refugees, parties protesting over unemployment and groups supporting Syrian and Iranian regimes. Of course the most dangerous are extremists and people cooperating with terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Nusra Front.

Challenge of radicalization

It will be in the interest of German and European authorities in general to preemptively address this problem by not letting these refugees fall prey to extremists who influence them under the pretext of humanitarian support. These refugees must be intellectually equipped to live with dignity and co-exist in the new society which has hosted them; a society which respects their rights and beliefs and expects the same from refugees. European governments and people are currently focused on helping these refugees. They are being provided food and housing while their papers are processed. However, what is as important is educating them so that they integrate with society easily and confront attempts by extremists to radicalize them.

Governments can do nothing but threaten to expel anyone who is proved to be engaging in extremist activities, as has been seen in Germany. This approach only addresses a small percentage of the 1 million refugees. The biggest challenge is to intellectually strengthen the majority from attempts being made by extremists to turn refugees from being thankful to hateful and into extremists who reject their new society and clash with it.

I am confident that it is possible to spread the culture of co-existence and tolerance, which can be derived from the refugees’ Muslim and Middle Eastern culture that has collapsed in the last three decades due to extremist and hateful ideologies and ongoing wars.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 17, 2016.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.