Security concerns surround Europe's refugee crisis

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Tens of Thousands of Refugees and Migrants Flood Croatia

Thousands of refugees arrive at the train station in downtown Brussels every day. They're coming from faraway conflict zones like Iraq, Syria and Libya, where deep-rooted ethnic and religious tensions and Western military intervention have given way to unspeakable violence.

The weary travelers who have made it to the northern European hub have so far been met by those largely willing to do their part to help them. Staffers at the European Union, based in the Belgian capital, have begun food and clothing drives to help prepare the stunned masses for the cold months ahead.

"There's a good spirit," one EU staffer comments, adding cautiously, "at the moment."

RELATED: Time for Obama to Change Course on the Syrian Refugee Crisis?

The main question for what has become an epic crisis in Europe is what happens next, as millions of displaced people move to a continent dealing with its own economic hardships. They may never find what they're looking for, and locals may not be happy with their presence. All the while, the hardships from which the refugees are fleeing show no signs of ending.

See photos of the refugees bound for Europe:

General migrant crisis - Syrian refugees, entering all European countries
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Security concerns surround Europe's refugee crisis
Syrian refugee child Jana Makkiyeh, 3, whose family comes from Damascus, Syria, holds a teddy bear while standing near her family's tent at a makeshift camp for asylum seekers in Roszke, southern Hungary, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. Leaders of the United Nations refugee agency warned Tuesday that Hungary faces a bigger wave of 42,000 asylum seekers in the next 10 days and will need international help to provide shelter on its border, where newcomers already are complaining bitterly about being left to sleep in frigid fields. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
A Syrian refugee woman and her daughter, right, sleep while waiting in a bus before being taken by Hungarian police to board a train to the Austrian border, in Roszke, southern Hungary, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. With Hungary cracking down, desperate people fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere struggled to make it into the country, hoping to reach Western Europe before it was too late. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
A young Syrian boy is wrapped with a thermal blanket as he arrives with others at the coast on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey, at the island of Lesbos, Greece, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. The island of some 100,000 residents has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Afghan child Sohrab Naveed, 1, whose family comes from Kabul Afghanistan, is held by his mother while waiting with others to get into a bus that will take them to the center for asylum seekers, after crossing the Serbian-Hungarian border near Roszke, southern Hungary,Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. At least four countries Friday firmly rejected a European Union plan to impose refugee quotas to ease a worsening migrant crisis that Germany's foreign minister said was "probably the biggest challenge" in the history of the 28-nation bloc. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
A Syrian boy tries to warm up himself near the border train station of Idomeni, northern Greece, as he waits with his family to be allowed by the Macedonian police to cross the borders on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. Greece is Europe's main entry point for people arriving by sea, as the alternative route from north Africa to Italy has become increasingly dangerous due to fighting in Libya. From Greece, the migrants move north through the Balkans, hoping to gain asylum, preferably in Germany, the Netherlands or Scandinavia. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)
Migrant and refugee children lie on the ground during a demonstration to protest against Turkish police blocking the access to the road and the ticket office for the Turkey-Greece border towns on September 15, 2015 at Istanbul's Esenler Bus Terminal. Over half a million migrants have crossed the European Union's border so far this year, up from 280,000 in 2014, the bloc's Frontex border agency said on September 15, 2015 -- but warned some people may have been counted twice. AFP PHOTO / YASIN AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
ROSZKE, HUNGARY - SEPTEMBER 13: A young boy wraps up to keep warm as migrants wake up to a cold morning at the Hungarian border with Serbia on September 13, 2015 in Roszke, Hungary. A record number of 4,000 people crossed the Hungarian border with Serbia yesterday. Migrants are rushing to the border due to fears that the borders will soon close before the official closure of midnight on Monday, September 14th. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called 'Balkans route' has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The number of people leaving their homes in war torn countries such as Syria, marks the largest migration of people since World War II. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 28: (TURKEY OUT) Kurdish refugee children from the Syrian town of Kobani look on near makeshift tents in a camp in the southeastern town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province October 28, 2014. Kurdish fighters, supported by US-led air strikes, have fended off the Islamic State militants offensive into the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani for the last 44 days but remain ill equipped and short on ammunition. (Photo by Kutluhan Cucel/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - JULY 02: Mother of Syrian child refugee 8-year-old Ahmet Kedru, with partial thickness burns on the face, Aisha Kedru weeps as her son demands support for an aesthetic surgery from Turkish doctors to return to the old days on July 02, 2015 in Aleppo's district Azaz. When Ahmet and his family members were inside of a tent that they take shelter in at Azaz district, the tent is burned out. Fire damaged both him and his mother. (Photo by Kerem Kocalar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Syrian refugees wait for transportation after crossing into Turkey from the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, near Akcakale in Sanliurfa province, on June 10, 2015. Thousands of people crossed from Syria into Turkey on June 10 to flee a battle pitting Islamist insurgents against Kurdish and opposition forces for the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - JUNE 06: A Turkish soldier carries a Syrian girl as she crosses into Turkey with her family from the borderline in Akcakale district of Sanliurfa on June 06, 2015. Hundreds of Syrians who fled from Syria after clashes between Syrian government forces and opponents in Rasulayn region of Al-Hasakah, have crossed into Turkey since Wednesday. (Photo by Halil Fidan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Syrian refugee woman sits as a child sleeps near her early in the morning on Taksim Square, Istanbul, on May 26, 2015. Britain's David Cameron and Russia's Vladimir Putin have agreed to re-start talks on finding a solution to the crisis in Syria, a statement from Cameron said on May 25. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian Kurdish boy peers as children take lessons on November 10, 2014 in a makeshift school tent in a refugee camp in the town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province. Turkey's maintained an 'open door' policy for all those fleeing Syria's civil war and there are now over 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in the country. More than 280,000 Syrian refugees are living in refugee camps, mostly in the southeast, according Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINI (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Kurdish people watch the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, from the Turkish border in the southeastern village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on October 18, 2014. Turkey is turning a deaf ear to insistent pressure to take a more pro-active stance in the fight against Islamic State (IS) jihadists, adding to existing strains with the West under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Western diplomats have repeatedly made clear they want to see the key NATO member play a key role in the coalition against the militants, who are battling for the Syrian town Kobane just a few kilometers from Turkey. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A child cries as Syrian Kurdish people arrive after crossing the border between Syria and Turkey after several mortars hit both side in the southeastern town of Suruc, in the Sanliurfa province on September 29, 2014. Tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds flooded into Turkey fleeing an onslaught by the Islamic State (IS) group that prompted an appeal for international intervention. Some of the refugee now want to return to protect their homes and join the fight against IS militants. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Refugees buy tickets at the port of Mitylene on the northeast Greek island of Lesbos to get on board a ferry traveling to Athens, on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. This island of some 100,000 residents has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)
Afghan refugees play with a baby at the port of Mitylene on the northeast Greek island of Lesbos while waiting to board a ferry traveling to Athens, on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. The island of some 100,000 residents has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)
A group of migrants scan the border area from an abandoned military watch post by the border between Serbia and Hungary, near the village of Horgos, Serbia, Friday, Aug. 28, 2015. Record numbers of migrants fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea are trying to reach Europe this year, despite the risks of perilous sea crossings and little humanitarian assistance. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Syrian refugees wait at the port of Lesbos island, Greece, to board a ferry traveling to Athens, on Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. The island of some 100,000 residents has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
Eight-month-old Maria and her father Ibrahim from near of Damascus, Syria, look out of the window during their trip by train from Salzburg, Austria, in Munich, Austria, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015. Since four month they are on their way from Syria via Budapest, Vienna to Germany. (AP Photo/ Kerstin Joensson)
In this photo taken on Monday, Aug. 31, 2015, Syrian men rest as they travel by train from Belgrade to the northern Serbian town of Subotica. The vast majority of migrants are from Syria and Afghanistan, reaching the eastern Aegean Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast, before heading north to cross the border with Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary and onwards to more prosperous European countries. (AP Photo/Santi Palacios)
A migrant from Syria sleeps at a park in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. Thousands of migrants, including many women with babies and small children, have crossed into Serbia over the past few days and are heading toward Hungary and the E.U. (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)
A young migrant woman from Syria looks from a window onboard a train towards Serbia, at the new transit center for migrants on the border with Greece, near southern Macedonian town of Gevgelija, on Monday, Aug. 24, 2015. Thousands of migrants have poured into Macedonia and board trains and busses that are taking them a step closer to the European Union. Police are letting the migrants pass across the border Monday, directing them to the new transit center for migrants near the border line. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
Eight-month-old baby Nejmi, from Aleppo, Syria, sleeps on a sidewalk near Basmane train station in the coastal city of Izmir, Turkey, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015. The migrants hope to make it to Greece in boats and eventually reach wealthier European countries north. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)
A migrant from Syria waits at the port of Kos island, Greece, on Tuesday, June 2, 2015, after she and others were rescued by Greek Coast Guard while they were trying to cross from Turkey to Greece on a dinghy. Greece and Italy are the main points of entry into the European Union for refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East and Africa hoping to reach other European Union countries. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
In this Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015 photo, a Jordanian soldier carries a Syrian child arriving in Jordanian territory in the Roqban reception point near the northeastern Jordanian border with Syria, and Iraq, near the town of Ruwaished, 240 km (149 miles) east of Amman. The commander of Jordan's Border Guard told The Associated Press that 199 refugees crossed from Syria into Jordan on Thursday. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
In this Wednesday, July 22, 2015 photo, Syrian refugee Eidah Hassoun, 36, sits with her children inside their tent at an informal tented settlement near the Syrian border on the outskirts of Mafraq, Jordan. More than 10,000 children have died in Syria's four-year conflict, while over 2.8 million in and out of the country donât go to school, according to the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
A Syrian refugee carries a baby after crossing over the broken border fence into Turkey from Syria in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, Sunday, June 14, 2015. The mass displacement of Syrians across the border into Turkey comes as Kurdish fighters and Islamic extremists clashed in nearby city of Tal Abyad. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Under the watchful eye of Turkish soldiers, top, Syrian refugees are stuck after breaking the border fence and crossing into Turkey from Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, Sunday, June 14, 2015. The mass displacement of Syrians across the border into Turkey comes as Kurdish fighters and Islamic extremists clashed in nearby city of Tal Abyad. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Syrian refugee children sit on the ground inside their tent home as they take their dinner at a Syrian refugee camp, in Deir Zannoun village in the Bekaa valley, eastern Lebanon, on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. A snow storm is expected to hit Lebanon Monday affecting Syrian refugees, many of whom live in tents without heating. The government estimates there are about 1.5 million Syrians in Lebanon, about one-quarter of the total population. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
A Syrian Kurdish refugee child from the Kobani area eats bread at a refugee camp in Suruc, near the Turkey-Syria border Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

It's a volatile mix that could breed violence. In places like France, Germany and the U.K., there exists seething anti-immigrant and nationalist sentiment that could boil over as new arrivals continue to flow in. Western security officials also fear some among the migrants may have nefarious intentions.

Already, authorities in Europe are setting up de facto internment camps in desperate attempts to document the massive flow of people coming into their countries. Some of those arriving are genuine refugees fleeing violence, and perhaps had to give up or destroy their identification papers if they had any hope of leaving their home borders. Others are traditional economic migrants taking advantage of the exodus to achieve their long-held hopes of making it to Europe.

But Europe may not provide the answers these refugees are seeking, sparking a sense of disenchantment that could become dangerous.

"They very well may become radicalized because it won't be the paradise they thought it would be," says Robert Milton, a former commander of London's Metropolitan Police Service. "They think once they're in the U.K. or once they're in Europe, everything will be fine. And it won't. They'll face years and years of hardship and poverty. They'll get a lot of support from our countries, but they'll still struggle."

"What it means is in two, three, four, five years' time, we may have some real problems within these communities – people within these communities who pose a real threat to us."

Many in Europe, however, are empathetic toward a generation that has known nothing but war in their homelands, while reluctant Western war planners offer few if any assurances that their future will contain anything but more violence and death.

Ana Maria Gomes, a member of the European Parliament representing Portugal, traveled to Libya last year and predicted at the time the chaos would lead to a protracted migrant crisis that would spill over into Europe. Just this week, she returned from an extended trip throughout Iraq to see the source of these fleeing refugees.

RELATED: DNI James Clapper: Syrian Refugee Crisis a Prime Opportunity for ISIS Attack

They won't stop, she says. So Europe must do more.

"These people, they told me, they will come. There are no walls stopping them. If they don't find the doors open, they'll go through windows. They will come more and more until they have a sense we are indeed serious about fighting [the Islamic State group] and ousting the terrorists ... and there is a future for them in Iraq, or Syria or Libya," says Gomes, who sits on the parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, and the Subcommittee on Security and Defence.

Gomes cites Western wars in Iraq and Libya as examples of conflicts that have devolved into highly sectarian civil fighting. She also faults the Obama administration and others who pulled entirely out of Iraq in 2011 and didn't do much in Libya after the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi to help build upon peace, security and democratic reforms that since have all but vanished.

Now, those crises have crept into Europe, and a continued lack of consensus on how to handle the surge of refugees is tearing at the very fabric of the continent. Hungary, for example, has already begun moving away from the Pan-European accord known as the Schengen Agreement that allows people to travel unrestricted across mainland borders. Beyond simply turning away refugees, the Hungarian government has erected razor-wire fencing and deployed riot police to thwart their traveling through the country. Germany and Austria have also instituted stricter border controls.

"It is becoming an existential crisis for the European Union, this refugee process," Gomes says. "The good thing is it will make minds focused and leaders understand that they cannot delay action."

"We have the means. Why should we not use them?"

Europe's immediate response should focus squarely on identifying migrants and controlling where they travel, according to multiple security experts who spoke with U.S. News. Some EU lawmakers are pushing for the universal adoption of ECRIS, the European Criminal Records Information System. If border agents, for example, could fingerprint each refugee entering Europe and log them into the system, they could at least tell if that person has any sort of criminal history within the continental bloc.

"The biggest problem we have right now is making sure we identify the migrants at the point of arrival in the European Union," says Milton, now a security consultant and professor of criminal justice at Bay Path University in Massachusetts. "It's extremely difficult under [European] asylum legislation. If someone arrives and they claim political asylum, unless we have hard facts that they are a violent terrorist, it's very difficult not to grant them asylum and let them stay in the country."

Beyond that immediate problem lies growing ultranationalism in parts of Europe where even elected officials espousing anti-immigrant rhetoric are gaining support. Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right National Front party, recently cited images showing mostly male refugees as evidence that "men who flee their country and leave their families back home, don't do so to flee persecution. It is clearly for economic reasons."

"We educate our compatriots about the dangers of migration," she later said, according to a posting on her official Twitter page.

RELATED: Report: $1 Billion Wasted in Afghanistan Refugee Crisis

Others have taken such speech a step further: The U.K.'s far-right British National Party recently stated that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's move to accept hundreds of thousands of migrants amounted to genocide against Europeans.

These sentiments and the potential for fearmongering make refugees an even more attractive target for recruitment by organizations like the Islamic State group, who see the crisis as an opportunity to further degrade any sense of unity among European nations. Even the perception of an attack perpetrated by migrants would stoke fears and foment distrust between European nationals and those hoping to call the continent their home.

"It only takes a few people who perpetrated a large-scale atrocity, and what that does then is put a stain on all the refugees. Then, everyone becomes a suspect," says M.J. Gohel, a counterterrorism expert at the London-based Asia-Pacific Foundation. "There's a potential here for something I don't think the politicians in Europe have thought through."

The refugees misunderstand the situation in Europe, he says, particularly that countries there are facing high unemployment and shaky economies.

"There is likely to be more financial problems in Europe, and ... people are quite tense with the situation as it is, even before the migrants have arrived," Gohel says. "The last thing anyone wants is that kind of polarization taking place within the fabric of society, because it can develop a momentum of its own."

He added to a chorus of European leaders who have criticized countries like Saudi Arabia for not accepting any of the refugees on its own, particularly as it contributes to the U.S.-led air war in Syria. The Saudi government has reportedly offered to build mosques in Germany to help assimilate and manage the growing number of Muslim refugees heading there, but hasn't, for example, offered use of the thousands of tents in its country used to accommodate pilgrims to Mecca.

For now, to the refugees, it seems their only hope for survival is to continue to flood toward Europe.

"These people are going to come whether we want them or not," says Gomes, "so Europe must act. It's now, and we must stop finding excuses about terrorists."

It's Europe's moral and legal duty, she adds, to receive the refugees as best it can.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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