Op-ed: The Road from Damascus

Time to recall the bloody history of border crossings from Syria.

By Todd Bensman on January 24, 2024

While driving 100 kmh past a highway-side gas station on the outskirts of Sarajevo, I spied and accurately identified a human smuggling scene unfolding in the station parking lot: several Caucasian men, no doubt local smugglers, shepherded some 30 young Middle Eastern male immigrants and their backpacks from one set of vehicles and into another set.

“Stop, stop! Pull in there! Pull in!!” I urged my Serbian interpreter behind the wheel, who hit the brakes and turned in fast. I’d known how to spot the handoff from my experience south of the U.S.-Mexico line—the basic hallmarks are recognizable the world over. Here, on the outskirts of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital city, they have become par for the course. For weeks I have been reporting from the Balkans on a new European migration surge of magnitudes not seen in years. Its central thoroughfare is the so-called “Balkan Route,” which stretches northward from Turkey and Greece then turns westward through Croatia and Slovenia and into Germany, France, Belgium, and other wealthier E.U. nations with a reputation for welcoming immigrants.

I spilled out of the passenger seat, recording video on my iPhone, wandering among the shifting crowds of young men, smugglers, and vehicles, asking in English: “Where are you from?”

The few willing to respond answered, “Syria.” In fact, all these young, fit men hailed from Syria.

Neither they nor the burly Bosnian smugglers appreciated my curiosity, especially after I introduced myself in Serbo-Croatian as a “novinar,” or journalist, and requested interviews. First one, then another, demanded my cell phone to delete the images. I refused, knowing it was fight-or-flight time. I much preferred flight. I got back in the car and closed the door.

They followed and swung it back open, demanding the phone. I slammed it back shut just as my driver peeled out of the parking lot. So, eventually, did all the migrants.

Syrians are ubiquitous on the newly-crowded migration routes into Europe. Frontex reports that they top the list of nationalities driving the most powerful surge since a continental crisis in 2015-2016.

But Syrians pose an overlooked security threat for Europe, one worth American attention too: 538 of them were counted at the U.S.-Mexico border, which is facing its own historically unprecedented mass migration crisis.

In case the world forgot, the last time Syrians surged across Western borders, in 2015-16, there followed a bloody onslaught of terrorism that brought France, Belgium, Germany, and other E.U. countries to their knees for several years—before Europe put all that out of mind.

But whether Europeans or Americans choose to forget what happened last time, this resurgence presages an elevating threat of terrorism in 2024 and beyond. Observers on both sides of the Atlantic would do well to pay attention now.


[Read the rest at the American Mind]