Fade Kintar, a 24-year-old chemical engineer from Damascus, was among a group of Syrian refugees watching the horror of multiple terrorist attacks in Paris unfold on TV on Friday night in his temporary housing unit in the German town of Sontra.
“When we saw that on the news, all those attacks there, we just felt afraid,” he said.
It was not the fear felt by Europeans who wondered if similar scenes might play out in their own towns or cities. It was a fear of what the attacks would mean for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees like themselves who have sought refuge in Europe in recent months.
Even before Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, and even before a Syrian passport (possibly fake) was found near the body of one of the attackers, Kintar worried the events in Paris would further diminish his chances of being accepted by local people in Sontra.
“They already hate us, just because we’re strangers,” he told IRIN. “We thought they’d attack us. [Since Friday] we just stay in our homes. We don’t go out too much.”
If Syrian refugees in Europe do become scapegoats for the attacks in Paris then the extremists will have achieved at least one of their likely goals, Aboud Dandachi, a Syrian blogger living in Istanbul, told IRIN.
“Da’esh [IS] would love to turn Europeans hostile towards refugees; in fact it’s a top priority for them right now,” he said, explaining that the radical Islamist group “hate the fact that Europe is seen as a refuge for Muslims fleeing their atrocities.”
Dandachi said the attacks were bound to have an impact on the Refugees Welcome ethos that has seen Europe, and Germany in particular, open its doors to a seemingly endless stream of asylum seekers this year.
“They’re definitely going to be a lot more wary about taking refugees, not just from Syria, but from anywhere in the world. It’s inevitable,” he said.
“As refugees, this is our worst nightmare. This is what we were afraid was going to happen.”
Parisians show understanding
Anas, a 23-year-old agricultural student who has lived in Paris since fleeing Syria in 2013, described French people as “really welcoming.”
“They accepted me as a refugee,” he told IRIN. “They were moved by what had happened to me.”
He agreed that the attacks would make Europeans “less trusting” of refugees, but insisted that the French people he had spoken to since Friday’s attacks “were not hostile towards us”.
“Friends of mine took part in gatherings in Place de La Republique (in Paris) and spoke to French people there. They understood. They did distinguish between the refugees and the people who did this.”
A new ‘rush’ for refugees?
Dandachi, in Istanbul, has four cousins who have made the journey to Europe – two via the UN refugee agency’s formal resettlement programme and two who used “the illegal route”.
He said he wouldn’t be following them any time soon, but that the Syrians who congregate in Istanbul’s Akasary Square – a popular spot for making contact with smugglers who can arrange passage to Greece – “will be in more of a rush now” given the growing fears that Europe will move to close its borders in the wake of the attacks.
He blamed Friday’s attacks on the rise of unchecked extremism, but also described Europe’s response to the refugee crisis as “completely untenable”.
“There has to be compassion tempered by prudence,” he said. “This open door policy is untenable – not only are you not saving the most vulnerable who can’t make the trip, but you’re creating a situation where there’s going to be a backlash in Europe.
“In the end, we need acceptance, and the way refugees are coming into Europe is going to be very hard to create that acceptance.”
He urged Europe to expand resettlement programmes and to prioritise the most vulnerable: “The Yazidis, families consisting of widows and small children – they’re not going to be a security risk. Single, young men can wait it out until there’s integrity in the process. Let Europe choose who they want to bring in.”
For those Syrian and other refugees, like Kintar, who have already made it to Europe, life was already “hard enough”.
“Now it’ll be even harder,” he said.