A discussion of the difficulties of a humanitarian crisis
by Matt Johnson
While the United States’ media is directing its focus towards the 2016 Presidential race, there is an ongoing issue on the international stage. The plight of Syrian refugees fleeing their country’s ongoing civil war is creating chaos at European borders as countries try to figure out how to handle the massive influx of migrants. There has not been a refugee crisis on this scale since World War II. Unfortunately, it seems as if this crisis is only now gaining more international attention due to the fact that it has begun heavily impacting Western countries, namely the European Union.
Although the crisis has only now reached the forefront of media coverage, the mass exodus from Syria started back in 2011. Inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings, Syrians began protesting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. These protests gradually evolved into armed conflict and rebellion after Assad’s government began violent crackdowns on the protestors. These attacks have included alleged use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons, despite international pressure against their usage. Also emerging from the rubble is the extremist group known as the ISIL (or ISIS). After four years of fighting, Assad’s government controls 40% of the territory and 60% of the population, ISIL controls around a third, and various rebel factions control the remaining areas.
The journey of a refugee, as one can assume, is not an easy one. Since the civil war began, millions of Syrians have left their homes for neighboring countries, while some flee to safer parts of Syria. Most of those emigrating have left for Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan, but some are even traveling to the United States and Australia.
Sadly, criminal networks are capitalizing on the dire needs of refugees by charging high prices for transporting them, often with little safety. Yet those networks are not the only ones to blame for safety issues. It is not unheard of for Western governments to allow (or, more likely, fail to prevent) these actions in order to prevent or discourage more migrants from coming to their countries. Both the United Kingdom and Italy have stopped funding search and rescue programs in the Mediterranean– programs that have saved over 150,000 people—so that migrants would stop attempting the journey. Just this past week, many pictures have been revealed of chaos at borders, such as the one between Hungary and Serbia, which has left over 17,000 people stuck in Croatia and the Balkans. One Iraqi man, speaking to the New York Times, said, “It was crowded, there was no food, no transport and nowhere to go,” and they began to consider returning home. Croatia is closing its border to Serbia, with their Interior Minister telling migrants, “Don’t come here anymore. This is not the road to Europe.” Macedonia has declared a state of emergency after being overwhelmed by migrants trying to move through to countries such as Germany or Sweden.
Under the Dublin Regulation, any person having filed for asylum in one EU country but then illegally crossing borders to another country shall be returned to the former. However, Hungary became so overburdened by asylum applications that back in June, they stopped receiving back applicants who later crossed the borders into other EU countries. In August, Germany decided to suspend the Regulation as regards to Syrian refugees and to directly process their asylum applications themselves. In September, the Czech Republic also decided to defy the Dublin Regulation by offering Syrian refugees who have already applied for asylum in other EU countries, but arrive in Czech Republic, to either have their application processed by the Czech Republic or to continue their journey elsewhere.
This isn’t to say that Western Europe isn’t trying to help. Historically, no strangers to issues of displaced people, most countries in the European Union (as well as their allies such as the United States and Australia), have committed to receiving a certain number of refugees. Germany has agreed to take 800,000 asylum seekers, France 20,000, and Britain another 20,000. The EU as a whole has given almost 4 billion Euros in aid (roughly equivalent to 4.5 billion US dollars), with the United States following suit by giving about $3 billion–making them the largest single donor.
Non-Western countries of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and parts of Iraq and Egypt have provided health care and education, but their domestic public services are overloaded. Water and sanitation systems are overwhelmed. There’s not enough room in schools and hospitals. Rents have been driven up. In addition, so many new people also have caused social tensions. 25% of the Lebanese population and 10% of the Jordanian population is now made up of Syrians.
Frankly, it is impossible for countries to absorb refugees on this scale, and no amount of international aid or policies can ease the tensions and struggles of the Syrian people. The only thing that can end the crisis is for peace to be brought to Syria, and for the oppressive governments to realize that people are more important than power.