Empathy is dripping from humanity following a wave of refugees confronting Europe, perhaps as never experienced since the end of World War II. Armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, exacerbated by Islamic Salafist extremism, leadership bankruptcy and persecutions in Eritrea, and murderous activities of Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria have compelled millions to flee their homelands.
For most migrants, Germany is the Promised Land, which must be reached at all costs. The country has opened its borders, together with its neighbour, Austria, to the migrants, just as Turkey, Hungary, Greece, the Mediterranean and western Balkans are exposed to unrestrained refugees invasion. More than four million Syrian refugees are in other countries in the Middle East and might want to exit the region, in addition to those already in Europe, mostly in camps under dehumanising conditions.
This humanitarian tragedy has been unfurling for two years running, with scant regard for its consequences. There was a shipwreck on April 19, off the coast of Italy, that claimed 800 lives; while two boats that took off from Libya on August 27 capsized and 500 migrants died. International Organisation for Migration says that 2,600 refugees had died as of September 1, as they attempted the hazardous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea en route to Greece or Italy.
But the heart-breaking picture of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy, who died in a boat tragedy and washed ashore on a Turkish beach last week, was all European leaders needed to be nudged into action; or appreciate the moral responsibility of shared humanity. Alan, died with his mother and brother, as the family attempted to reach Greece.
A dithering European Union met last Wednesday to share a mandatory quota plan for relocating refugees scattered in Greece, Hungary, Germany, France and Spain, among its member-nations. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the 28-member organisation, urged states to see the challenge as “something to be proud of, and not something to fear.”
Under the arrangement, each country is expected to accept at least 120, 000 more refugees, just as indices such as Gross Domestic Product, population and unemployment rate would serve as critical guide. “It’s 160,000 refugees in total that Europeans (each country) have to take into their arms and I really hope that this time everyone will be on board – no rhetoric, action is what is needed,” Junckers stated.
However, this strategic response has sharply divided Europe, with many countries opposed to the imposition of number of refugees to be harboured, while Britain seems to have adopted its Splendid Isolationist foreign policy of the past – indifference to European affairs. It has been absent at EU policymaking meetings, preferring to make huge cash donations in aid of the refugees, to keying in to the EU plan. Though, it has been keeping 5,000 Syrian refugees since 2011, just as it has agreed to receive 20,000 more.
Denmark, which temporarily shut down its rail transport services because of the increasing surge of refugees, last Monday advertised in four Lebanese newspapers, warning new migrants to steer clear, as it had reduced assistance by 50 per cent. Hungary has erected more high-wire fence along its borders with Serbia, to be sealed by September 15 as part of its efforts to halt the wave of migrants entering its territory. Interestingly, these barricades are being pulled down by desperate migrants seeking to find their way to Austria en route to Germany. The Hungarian President, Victor Orban, embittered by the turn of events, described European leaders disposed to accepting the refugees as “irresponsible,” adding that it was “quite depressing” that only his country and Spain were willing to protect the EU borders.
Figures from Amnesty International indicate that refugees in Middle East as of September 4 were as follows: Lebanon 1.2 million; Turkey 1.9 million; Jordan 650,000; Iraq 249,463 and Egypt 132,375. The Lebanon figure represents 25 per cent of its population. Pope Francis II has advised 75,000 Catholic parishes in Europe to absorb one refugee family each to ease the problem, while the United States so far has contributed $4.1billion to the Syrian humanitarian aid.
But re-settling the refugees for them to begin to rebuild their broken lives is just one side of the challenge. The bigger picture appears to be how to end the cause of the crisis. The Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron, was, therefore, spot-on when he said, “…the most important thing is to bring peace and stability to that part of the world.”
There must be a solution to the Syrian civil war that began in 2011 as an offshoot of the Arab Spring that swept through Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Algeria among others, with varying degrees of result. So far, it has defied UN diplomatic efforts. Kofi Annan, a former UN scribe, and the Algerian diplomat, Lakhdar Brahimi, all failed as UN peace envoys, paving the way for the war to assume the hue of a proxy regional conflict.
Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have since 2012 been funding and arming the rebels determined to oust the authoritarian Bashar al-Assad regime from power, while Russia, Iran, Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and China back the regime. Unfortunately, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has bifurcated the crisis with its involvement in mindless killings and maiming of thousands of hapless civilians. Under this delicate balance of terror, ending the crisis will be pretty difficult.
The absence of a strong central authority in Libya since Muammar Gadaffi’s death has also exposed that country to factional sectarian armed conflicts, each trying to seize power from the fragile government. Libya has become the haven for arms trafficking in the Maghreb since then.
A series of limited aerial assaults against ISIS by the US and its allies, have failed to rein in the jihadists, even as Saudi Arabia has failed to overpower the Houthi rebels that drove Yemeni President, Abdrabbuh Hadi, out of office in February. This is why a new diplomatic and military construct with total commitment from the UN and EU is required now to enforce order in the Middle East.
Russia and Iran need to be constructively engaged to stop fuelling the carnage in Syria through their uninhibited arms supply. ISIS has served enough notice that it is an evil capable of undermining global peace and security. The time to uproot it, therefore, is now.
Ultimately, one lesson sticks out: no region of the world is immune from the consequences of war or instability in any country.