The Refugee Crisis - Different Facets


by Rajeewa Jayaweera

The whole world was shocked to see the body of Aylan Kurdi, a three year old child of Syrian parents whose body had washed ashore not far from Turkey’s fashionable resort town of Bodrum. The little boy along with his five-year old brother, mother and nine others had died of drowning while attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos. Images published globally depicted the dark-haired toddler, wearing a bright-red T-shirt and shorts, washed up on a beach, lying face down in the surf. According to Aylan’s father who survived, they were fleeing from the northern Syrian city of Kobani to escape fierce fighting between ISIL insurgents and Kurdish forces earlier this year.

The images of Aylan’s body lying on the beach and of being carried away by a Turkish policeman resulted in the expression of moral outrage by both the media and general public the world over. It moved French President François Hollande and UK Prime Minister David Cameron to announce the acceptance of24,000 and 20,000 Syrian refugees respectively over the next two years. Cameron who suddenly remembered he was a father announced UK would act ‘with our head and our heart’. In addition, both announced increased air strikes against ISIL strongholds.

More than 350,000 migrants have arrived at the EU’s borders between January and August 2015, compared with 280,000 arrivals during 2014. That 350,000 figure - an estimate from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) - does not include unregistered entrants. Conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan and violence in Eritrea are the main contributory factors to the refugee crisis. The German government has estimated that around 800,000 refugees would end up in Germany by end 2015.

While EU member countries are hard pressed in facing the crisis, it is mind boggling to understand the attitude adopted by oil rich Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman who all have the necessary wherewithal to accept their share of refugees - required space, adequate resources and ability to absorb large numbers of refugees into their work force since they are all dependant on foreign labour. An additional advantage is that these countries have populations of over 98% belonging to the Islamic faith. It would not be incorrect to assume that a majority of refugees currently moving westward belong to the Islamic faith and will face lesser challenges in assimilating with local populations. The ‘do nothing’ attitude adopted by these oil rich countries, especially considering the billions they spend to buy respectability by holding world sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup etc. is unfathomable. These oil rich countries seem to have forgotten the Islamic concept of ‘Ummah’. A Kuwaiti official is on record stating "Kuwait wants a homogeneous population and do not want people who are traumatized by war in their country." The Kuwaiti government has all but forgotten the many Kuwaitis who sought refuge in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Oman and other countries when Saddam Hussain invaded Kuwait in 1991.

Equally unfathomable is the reason for the many thousands seeking refuge or asylum as applicable to move relentlessly to the west.

They do not consider moving in the direction of oil rich Middle Eastern countries despite the shared religious and cultural bonds. Perhaps they fear that treatment they would receive in oil rich Middle Eastern countries will be less hospitable and accommodating than what is anticipated from western countries.

AFP (Agence France-Presse) recently carried an interesting dispatch on Syrian refugees who arrived in Uruguay last year under the resettlement program of former President Jose Mujica. A group was found protesting outside the President’s office claiming they were living in poverty and wanting to leave. A 36-year old protestor had told AFP "we did not flee the war to die here in poverty. This is not a place suited for refugees". The AFP report stated former President Mujca’s resettlement program aimed at taking families with small children, house them and provide them with a modest income. The protestors claim they were isolated and struggling in Uruguay, which has just a tiny Arab population and a relatively high cost of living. Another 55-year old protestor, a father of 15, had stated "we want to live with (our) identity and (our) values". Yet another had stated, "we are not here for them to test this on us".

These complaints possibly reflect samples of challenges countries taking in refugees could expect to face once the resettlement problem is eventually brought under control. The manner in which those having lived their whole life in repressive and totalitarian states perceive free and liberal societies with benefits to boot appear faulty.

The transformation of their mind set, if such a thing is possible, is long and tedious. Under normal circumstances, it would be the second and third generations who will assimilate and break away from the religious and cultural shackles of their parents. Most adult refugees will struggle with the challenges they face especially in communication (language), employment (skills) and mind set (cultural).A good example is the Turks who came to Germany in the 1960s as ‘Gastarbeiters’ or Guest Workers. Most of their progeny today are important and valuable contributors to the German economy.

The conflict in Syria commenced in March 2011, a little over four years ago. Little Aylan was three years old when his life was snuffed out. In other words, this child was both conceived and born after the conflict had commenced. The ferocity of the conflict with the Syrian government barrel bombing and using chemical weapons in towns held by the opposition is known to the Syrian population. It may be politically incorrect to state such a fact but not giving thought to the advisability of bringing a child to this world in a country torn by civil war makes Aylan’s parents as responsible as the Assad regime for the untimely demise of this little child. The 55-year old father of 15 in Montevido, having received refugee status, a place to live and a modest income now demanding relocation to live according to his ‘values and identity’ can only be termed as an aberration. He should have rightly protested in front of the Presidential Palace of Presidents Hafez al Assad and later Bashar al Assad making his demands thus enabling him and his brood to live according to his ‘values and identity".

Before conclusion, it is pertinent to comment on the origin of the refugee crisis. It would not be incorrect to state that such an exodus of refugees from the said countries was not even thinkable during the regimes of Saddam Hussain and Muammar Gaddafi. Western nations took it upon themselves to ‘liberate’ Iraqis, Afghans and Libyans and introduce their brand of democracy in those countries. Lawlessness now prevailing in the said countries, the advent of ISIL and civil war in Syria are a direct result of intervention by US, UK, France and many other EU countries. It is the same lawlessness that has caused the refugee crisis with citizens wanting to leave for Europe in the thousands and Libyan borders being open for refugees from Africa trekking to the Italian island of Lampadusa, the most favoured entry point to Europe.

Many were revolted by the images of Aylan’s dead body published the world over. However, who is shocked, revolted or grieve for the thousands of Aylans who have died in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya etc. as a result of precision bombs, drone attacks and are still dying in their own countries as a result of roadside bombs? Are those children any less innocent than Aylan? The fact is that the deaths of all those children are not taking place on the door steps of western nations. Not one word has been uttered of the need to name both individuals and countries responsible for bringing about such deaths or to bring those guilty of such crimes before the UNHRC or ICJ. The conscience of both countries and organizations such as UNO, UNHRC etc. in favour of investigating war crimes supposedly committed in the final phase of the conflict in Sri Lanka would seem to be selective.

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