The preferential treatment given to Syrian refugees has led migrants trying to reach Europe to try and pass as Syrians, precipitating a boom in the traffic of fake passports, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Because of the war that has raged in Syria for the last four years, most Syrians are automatically given refugee status under international law. Others have to go through a lengthier process and face having their request rejected.
The head of Europe’s border agency, Fabrice Leggeri, already warned about the emerging fake Syrian passport market a few weeks ago.
“There are people who are in Turkey now who buy fake Syrian passports because they know Syrians get the right to asylum in all the member states of the European Union,” Leggeri told radio station Europe 1.
He also mentioned that the people who buy fake Syrian passports often speak Arabic and probably come from North Africa or the Middle East. But they have the profile of economic migrants, which does not not allow them to stay in Europe.
The trend is at risk of undermining an already fragile pro-refugee policy and of boosting insurgent parties who oppose Europe’s open-door policy. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, out of the nearly 400,000 people who entered Italy and Greece this year, only half were Syrians.
Last week, Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU Commission’s president, announced that alongside his plan to relocate 160,000 refugees, the commission was also working on a plan to rapidly repatriate the people whose asylum claim had not been accepted, The Journal reports.
Authorities have been trying to clamp down on the migrants pretending to be refugees, but the sheer number of people coming into Europe has made strict controls impossible to implement. For example, when people do not have proper documents in Italy and Germany, officials are relying on interpreters and language experts to identify the asylum seeker’s origin, according to The Journal.
But the the different treatment given to Syrians has not only caused problems for officials. It has also led to tensions and scuffles between Syrians and migrants from different nations.
Katerina Nikolarea, who is a volunteer for the Hellenic Red Cross on the island of Lesbos, told Business Insider that authorities had been separating Syrians from other nationalities because they were allowed to board the ships first.
“So the other refugees, mostly Afghans and Pakistani, thought they were mistreated because Syrians left the island first,” Nikolarea said.
The boom in the fake Syrian market was also reported by German authorities, who last week intercepted several packages of real and fake passports. A UNHCR spokesperson also said the agency found some cases in people trying to pass as Syrians, according to The Journal.