Feature: The world forgot Syria’s people while engrossed in their war
The Syrian Refugee Crisis
Millions of innocents subjected to torture, sexual slavery, chemical weapons, barrel bombs and other barbaric atrocities; a near four million diaspora of hapless citizens fleeing their homes, the largest, since the Holocaust of World War II. The Syrian refugee crisis is a tragedy in motion, with the whole world watching as an unmoved audience.
Since assuming power in 2000, Bashar al-Assad had ruled Syria with an iron fist. A “President” in name only, his corrupt government reigned unquestioned, until military forces had to be called in, to crack down on pro-democracy protesters in 2011. Then, the Arab Spring of 2012 rolled around, culminating in the toppling of dictatorships in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia to non-violent uprisings. In Syria, the demonstrations by protesters were initially peaceful until the military, under government orders, began to fire indiscriminately at them.
In retaliation, several groups took up weapons and began to engage government forces in an armed rebellion. Their numbers were supplanted by mass defectors from the Syrian army itself. This, along with an invasion by a resurrected Al-Qaeda under the banner of ISIS, led to the Syrian Civil war.
By 2014, Syria was divided into fiercely contested regions between the government, rebels, ISIS, and Kurdish forces. However, rather than any side actually ‘winning’, the conflict has rapidly devolved into a struggle of attrition, where nobody wins and the biggest and sole losers are civilians who have lost their livelihoods. Government forces in particular, have been accused of atrocities such as the use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs on enemy positions, even at the cost of innocent lives. This calamitous situation has caused a human wave to flee to overcrowded and underfunded camps in neighboring countries.
However, as most of the refugees found out, it was nearly impossible for them to assimilate themselves into any of the neighboring Arab countries. Most of them were just as depressed economically as Syria, and offered little by way of opportunity for the refugees to take up jobs for salary. There were also severe restrictions on movements, and a complete lack of shelter, sanitation and civil rights. As a result, most of the refugees, out of desperation, were forced to undertake the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe. Depressingly, they find that their chances of surviving there are very slim as well.
Europe’s Existential Crisis
The reason why refugees face even more uncertainty for their future in well-developed EU nations, than on a rickety boat in a Mediterranean storm is primarily because of the attitude adopted by most European governments. Most of them, if not all, have shown an extreme reluctance towards bearing the responsibility of rehabilitating and integrating the influx of refugees into their societies.
Hungary, Lebanon and Austria, for instance, have built razor-wire barriers along their borders, to halt the inflow of refugees. And even in the cases where refugees are granted entry to a country, they’re stonewalled by bureaucracy and indifference. In countries like Turkey and Greece, refugees are forced to wait for years to register themselves as citizens. During these long waits they’re suspended in a state of limbo, where they’re not allowed to work, and their every movement is watched with extreme suspicion by the police or with mild entertainment by the news media, as illustrated by a Hungarian camerawoman who was televised kicking and tripping over fleeing refugees. As a result, they find themselves unable to even eke out a source of income to sustain themselves.
A common excuse that countries have hid behind is that, if they were to give asylum to refugees, they would expose themselves to the risk of infiltration by Jihadis. Not only is this extremely racist, but also, quite wrong. The people making the crossing are not doing it because they had an abundance of choice. It’s because they were cornered, with nowhere left to go and nobody to accept them. And so far, Europe has only seen its grudgingly built refugee encampments filled with sundered families, and war victims and not – as they claim, hardened, bloodthirsty terrorists.
The absurdity doesn’t stop there though. Slovakia, for one, has stated that it will take in only Christian refugees as there aren’t any mosques in the country to accommodate Muslims. As far as excuses go, this would be an appalling example of a country that deliberately chooses to look the other way, akin to Nero, who played the Harp in nonchalance as Rome burned. Even the headliners, and heavyweights, such as the UK, while appeasing indigenous voters, and the international community with impressive verbal commitments to accommodate 20,000 refugees in 5 years, have made several moves, that suggest an attitude that supports the opposite. Case in point; the Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue organization that saved more than 150,000 refugees in 2014, received a severe cutback in funding from the UK, which brusquely said that the NGOs actions only encouraged more people to make the crossing. The organization was eventually closed down, and was replaced by far more limited EU Frontex programme, which struggles to generate as much impact.
The final accusation is that refugees are lazy and an economic burden, which is not true given the fact that it is the governments themselves who are refusing to utilize the incoming human resource. Ironically, research has found that the immigration injects youth and economical labour which tends to benefit industrialized countries, by raising wages in the whole community
The EU has always tried to keep refugees out of sight and mind. Currently, most of the member-states’ attitudes towards the refugees is that it is somebody else’s problem. For them, the refugees are an unwanted nuisance that they hope will go away if they ignore it long enough. However, it is a need of the hour that the plight of these refugees is addressed.
There is some hope though; as there always was, even after Pandora’s Box was opened. Some truly incredible and unique tales are already springing up as we speak, with hundreds of thousands of hands reaching out to help, and to tell the whole world that this is their problem and nobody else’s. People like Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, celebrities like Cristiano Ronaldo and innumerable unnamed heroes are all pitching in, in their own small way, to help these people find temporary shelters and safe passage to stable environments.
Admittedly, there are genuinely few tangible reasons for these nations to offer the branch of rescue other than the fact that it is for a humane cause. But sometimes, that might be the most irrefutable reason of all. Until the EU arrives at an amenable solution, provides the stipulated funds and corrects the underlying flaws in the response system, the future for these refugees seems bleak.
References and Picture Credits
Gettysburg Images for all their pictures.
Amnesty.eu for their information and pictures.