GENEVA - In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, the U.N. refugee agency warns that refugees fleeing conflict and persecution should not be turned into scapegoats for the violence.
UNHCR officials say the vast majority of those coming to Europe are fleeing life-threatening circumstances perpetrated by the same groups of people responsible for the horrific Paris attacks.
“I think it is clear that a world that welcomes Syrians can actually defeat extremism," said UNHCR Spokeswoman Melissa Fleming, adding that many refugees are forced to travel by irregular means because they have no other safe alternatives for reaching European shores.
"A world that rejects Syrians, and in particular Muslims, will feed into the propaganda that is strengthening extremist groups like ISIS,” she said, using an acronym to refer to Islamic State terrorists.
A number of European Union countries are rejecting asylum seekers and calling to shelve the EU proposal to distribute 160,000 refugees among the 28 member states.
Several U.S. governors are also saying Syrian refugees aren't welcome.
Fleming says the UNHCR has long been urging countries to immediately put in place an effective reception, registration and screening process upon arrival in Greece and Italy. She told VOA when refugees are resettled, they go through a very thorough screening process.
“Certainly things would have been made much more difficult and also there are obviously a lot of fake passports circulating," she said. "This is also part of the criminal network and a sophisticated system would detect this better.”
UNHCR says legal avenues of movement for refugees, notably through resettlement and humanitarian admission programs, must be expanded immediately. It says these programs would decrease the number of dangerous and irregular journeys refugees now are forced to make and cut down the smuggling trade.