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Paris Attacks Heighten Debate Over Europe's Open Borders

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Europe's borders were straining even before the attacks in Paris. Today brought news that two of Friday's suicide bombers passed through Greece at the same time. Now, the divide is growing even wider between European countries that are willing to accept refugees and those that want to build fences. Peter Sutherland is the special representative of the secretary-general of the UN for migration. Mr. Sutherland, welcome back to the program.

PETER SUTHERLAND: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Several European countries have, particularly since the Paris attacks, said that they are no longer going to be as welcoming of migrants as they might have been before. But given the people, for the most part, are coming across the sea from Turkey - many of them to Greece - as long as there are smugglers and people willing to pay them, is there any realistic way to stop people who want to come from Europe from just showing up?

SUTHERLAND: Absolutely not, and why should there be? These are persecuted people, persecuted by ISIS in the main and coming from Syria. We should be giving them sanctuary.

SHAPIRO: The United States has a rigorous screening process for people coming from Syria and other countries. And even that program is under assault. The House of Representatives has voted to put pause on it. In Europe, where there really is no adequate screening process, where rafts full of people are washing up on islands, some of them without documentation, isn't it understandable that people would be nervous about who is coming ashore?

SUTHERLAND: Of course it is understandable. But steps are being taken, even today, in the European Council of Ministers to put in place something that arguably should have been more functionally effective earlier than what we have now. And that has to be done, clearly. But I think a lot of people in different countries are using this argument about terrorists coming from Syria as a basis for refusing to take people that they should take. The reality is that the vast majority of those involved in the events in Paris were homegrown terrorists. They weren't people who had been refugees coming from Syria.

SHAPIRO: There are, as you say, meetings in Brussels where representatives from across Europe are discussing the best approach to this problem. But overall, it seems like Europe is becoming less cohesive rather than more when it comes to this issue. At least that's how it looks from this side of the Atlantic. Is that your impression? And, if so, well, it sounds like things are going in the wrong direction.

SUTHERLAND: It depends where you look. We've had, I think, admirable leadership from Mrs. Merkel in Germany and from Sweden, to take two cases of countries that have taken very significant numbers. Others in Central and Eastern Europe in particular are not doing the same. So you have a mixed bag, but you can't, I think, fairly say that everybody has failed. Greece is doing what it can with huge numbers. It's overwhelmed. Italy has worked very hard to save people in the Mediterranean. And they're being brought by battleships and others who are there saving lives to the coast of Italy from other countries and dumped in Italy, not being taken to the countries of the ships that have saved them. So we have to have a fair share.

SHAPIRO: That's Peter Sutherland, the special representative of the secretary-general of the UN for migration. Thanks very much for talking with us, sir. It's been very good having you on the program.

SUTHERLAND: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.