The pernicious propaganda of ISIS works because it tells young immigrants that they will never be accepted, will never belong, will never be European – and so a few drift off into extremist content, and for a handful, acts of violence.
This problem is not going away – as the prospect of Aleppo, Mosul and eventually Raqqa falling grows, it is likely that what remains of ISIS will look to salvage its influence by infiltrating the ranks of the dispossessed as they flee north-west.
This is why proper vetting and border controls matter. But border controls will not stop everyone bent on destruction and – more fundamentally – it will not make the millions of young people already in Europe feel less alienated from society, or better able to integrate.
It is not just the countries of Western Europe that need be concerned.
A weakened, divided, introverted EU would be calamitous for those countries on its southern/eastern periphery; counties that remain greatly influenced by Europe’s ability to coalesce around transnational challenges.
If the fences are put up and the proverbial welcome-mat is removed in the EU, then the reality for these countries is that they will shutter, cut themselves off and revert to protectionism; stifling their economies and driving conflict risk.
Fundamentally, we need to have a policy debate that is not about security or rights but about securityand rights. If this debate remains polarized Europe’s voters and politicians will flee to the political fringes.
Europe has shown in the last 12 months that it can hugely improve its border management capacity.
Europe is an ageing continent – and its economies badly need new, skilled workers – but turning an unskilled asylum seeker into a successful, integrated and employed citizen will require civic education, vocational training; social policies that promote inter-cultural understanding – and the relentless prosecution of hate-crimes.
This is a generational problem. As UNDP, we are working with a consortium of international organizations, partners, governments and civil society around Europe and Central Asia to support work that prevents violent extremism. We do so by promoting inclusive citizenship within sustainable development.
Social change is indelible – and reverting to a cosy, homogenous, inward-looking and nostalgic vision of the past will not be our future.
We may not be able to go Back to the Future but we can turn a challenge into an opportunity. So we must.