Refugees are arriving in Europe by the thousands. [The term ‘migrants’ is deceiving because in truth, they are refugees from war-torn Syria and parts of Iraq rather than voluntary migrants.] Amnesty says that more than 10 million Syrians have fled Syria alone, although a large number of those are also displaced within Syria. Of those registered with the UNCHR, 2.2 million are in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, 1.8 million Syrians registered by the Turkey, as well as more than 24,000 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa. By 2015, of the European countries, the highest number was recorded in Germany, which received 77,109 applications, followed by France (54,131) and Sweden (38,792).
European countries, as well as Syria’s Middle East neighbors, feel they are being taxed by the heavy burden of refugees whom they have to house, feed, clothe, educate and perhaps employ. Middle Eastern neighbors are already carrying the heaviest burdens, but in Europe, many right-wing governments and their conservative followers have begun fear mongering campaigns to prevent any such help. Some claim that terrorists could infiltrate Europe hidden among the refugees. The concept is not surprising nor too far-fetched since ISIL and Al Nusra militants were found for example among UN refugees bound for Norway . The myriad threats issued by ISIL that they will attack Europe were no help either. Not to mention of course, actual attacks as well as home-grown terrorists that those countries are battling. Another ‘refugee PR’ disaster was when a boat full of African refugees nearly capsized off the shores of Libya on its way to Italy after clashes between the migrants themselves. 12 Christian refugees were thrown overboard by their Muslim counterparts after they prayed to ask God for help when their dinghy suffered a puncture and the Muslims did not want them to pray. The concept of killing Christians by Muslims was used as an example of why Italians – who had rescued several boats before – were refusing to take on more. As a result, Italy presented the UN with a plan to shoot migrant boats before they have any refugees on board those boats – an idea that was rejected internationally because migrant boats are generally fishing boats and could therefore cause an unwitting massacre.
Although EU members in an emergency meeting agreed to take a mere 32000 refugees, Slovakia did not buy in and said it will not accept anyone but Christians. They cited ‘not having mosques’ as an excuse. Macedonian authorities are beating back refugees and the refugees began acting rather violently, storming the border police station. Amnesty International said Macedonian police are responding to Syrian refugees on their border with Greece as if they were dealing with rioters not refugees who have fled conflict & persecution,” even though the refugees only wanted to cross the country as a gateway to other EU countries. Riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades to drive back angry crowds. Hungary’s right-wing government is completing a border fence with its non-EU neighbors. Neo-nazis are making sure no refugees enter as well. But as NBC noted, razor barbed wire is no hindrance to refugee determination to cross to safety. The UK has so far taken less than 7000.
Arriving by boats from Turkey to the Greek islands and especially to the island of Kos, migrants have been living on the streets among sometimes irate, sometimes sympathetic tourists. Turkish fishermen have allegedly videotaped Greek coast guards deliberately sinking a migrant boat. And yet the economically-strapped Greek government chartered ferries that transported several thousand mainly Syrian migrants to the Greek mainland from the island of Lesbos. France currently has a problem at the Calais border entrance where refugees have arrived in attempts at crossing into the UK only to be pushed back and beaten by riot police. In July 2015, France finally approved a law for asylum and refugee resettlement and fast-tracking the process. A year earlier, according to France, 96% of asylum seekers have been granted asylum.
Countries treating Syrian refugees with some form of dignity are Sweden which announced refugees would be granted residency, and Germany which is accepting the highest number of refugees among EU countries. However it is no picnic even if countries that accept them. Only today, right wingers in Mainz, Germany went on a weekend trashing spree over ‘immigrants’. In April 2015 a Kurdish student was shot by neo-Nazis in the eastern German town of Leipzig and in July a bomb attack against a pro-immigrant politician was carried out in front of his house in the city of Freital.
The US, on the other hand, is not even accepting 200 Christian Iraqis who had escaped from Iraq’s ISIL and are currently held in a refugee camp on the border. [UPDATE: US today, August 25, announced that it would take 5,000 to 8,000 Syrian refugees].
So whose responsibility is it to take in that influx of refugees? The problem is that the US and Europe have started wars and chaos in the Middle East – and if not started then encouraged – but did not expect nor plan for the outcome. How did they think that chaos will remain contained? It would not be chaos if it did. If refugees are a ‘problem’ then war is a much bigger problem that needs to be stopped. This is not to deny the Middle East’s responsibility for their own plight, but a mess as big as this one could not have happened without the inciting and initiation of the ‘international community’, not to mention the arms trade and freely moving weaponry.
Given the distant prospects for peace, there is a need for long term solutions. UNCHR says that resettlement and expedited humanitarian admission in safe countries are the only solution to the matter. Putting new arrivals in camps and make-shift shelters only exacerbates the humanitarian crisis. As the influx is likely to increase, the crisis is likely to worsen in the coming months and years. Both summer’s scorching heat and winter’s bitter cold weather are particularly hard on refugees, with children and the elderly being the most vulnerable.
Statistics and state-responsibilities aside, these are individual human beings and families and so many in Europe have also shown a humane side. A German driver welcomed the refugees and brought them to tears with just a few kind words that actually made the news. Many on the Greek islands are trying to help the refugees without losing their tourist businesses. Kind Hungarians are offering shoes, food and milk. Non-profit organizations are trying to help in Munich. Community members from Uki, on the New South Wales north coast, have welcomed five refugee families as part of an initiative to make them feel welcomed. But while those commendable efforts are occurring everywhere, the overall responsibility still falls on governments. Good intentions and conferences will not solve the ‘problem’ for the governments nor for the refugees.
Imagine you have a child and you are trying to protect them, escaping from a war-torn country and trying to get into another. Sometimes I stare at the images of the parents holding their children – the agony, the pain, the injustice, the utter helplessness and despair, and the fierce protectiveness they must be feeling overwhelms me and pierces me to the chore. The children must also be traumatized and confused, longing for some stability and a place to call home. It shows in every picture – in every face.
To those who attack refugees, hate them or are simply indifferent to them, do remember: but for the grace of God, go you and I.
Photo Album of the most poignant pictures:
- Iraqi refugees in Kurdistan’s UN refugee center http://rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/020820141
- Syrian refugees:
Note: All images are taken from several internet sources including but not limited to the Guardian, Ankawa, Rudaw, AP, Reuters, Daily Mail and others. If any of the images violate any copyright issues, please let me know and I will remove them.