NICOSIA, Cyprus – Any link between extremism and the thousands of people fleeing violence in Syria and elsewhere is false, a top European human rights official said Friday, noting that those who have perpetrated recent attacks in Europe were citizens of European countries.
Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks said that the primary risk lies with foreign fighters returning from Syria and other war zones, saying they should be "monitored very, very closely."
"The terrorists are already among us, they are our citizens," Muiznieks told The Associated Press in an interview. "They are not arriving. They are here."
Muiznieks said some European countries must "overcome the illusion" that they can avoid receiving migrants and asylum-seekers by building fences or raising bureaucratic obstacles, insisting that it's the responsibility of all European countries to welcome them.
Although around a million migrants have arrived to Europe this year, Muiznieks said the "world's richest and most stable continent" can absorb many more.
Higher fences and the militarization of borders is not the solution," he said. "I don't think that's the kind of Europe that we want to live in."
He said Europe must initiate large-scale refugee resettlement procedures at refugee camps in countries neighboring Syria to prevent them from putting their lives at risk by taking the often-hazardous land and sea journey to the continent.
Muiznieks said that although he initially harbored doubts over European Union plans to distribute refugees to EU-member countries based on a quota system, he said that he sees "no other way" because voluntary relocation schemes haven't worked.
He said this type of relocation plan is likely to accelerate soon in hopes that take the pressure off frontline countries like Greece and Italy which have borne the brunt of arrivals.
The official said the EU needs to help countries with integrating asylum seekers and allow for family members left behind to join them in their new home.
Another key action Brussels needs to take is to help Turkey "bring order" to its own migration rules. Many people from countries that aren't embroiled in conflict are abusing Turkey's visa-free policy to enter the country and move on to Europe, Muizniks said.