This week brought some more spectacular policies by the EU. They include closing off the Balkans Route that allowed Syrian refugees to enter countries like Germany, Austria and Sweden, instating further border controls restricting their flow into Europe, and striking a deal with Turkey where for every refugee sent back, they will settle one in Europe. Yes, the EU is essentially trading lives, but according to them it’s ok because then these asylum seekers can put in applications and go through a rigorous screening to enter instead of using precarious, illegal routes to flee for their lives. More on those applications in a second.
First, these Syrians are fleeing from the ISIS and seeking asylum in Europe and the EU, in its own way, is trying to accept them while crawling out of its economic crisis. The story starts with ISIS, who are they?
In 2003 after the US invaded Iraq for alleged connections with 9/11 and allegedly amassing weapons of mass destruction, they quickly won and executed Saddam Hussein, the Sunni dictator who oppressed the Shia majority in the country. The Shia majority now ruled the country and started oppressing the Sunni minority which resulted in a rebel uprising, which led to a civil war in 2006, and was now the perfect training ground for terrorist groups.
There are two sects of Muslims, called Shia and Sunni. The schism was the result of differences in opinion during the choosing of the new Caliph after the death of Prophet Muhammad. The Shias wanted Muhammad’s descendants to be the caliphs while the Sunnis wanted to elect their leader.
In the Arab world, Saudi Arabia and Iran are the major Sunni and Shia players respectively, with each supporting terrorist groups that fight against the other sect. One of these terrorist groups was the Islamic State of Iraq, or ISI, which was Sunni and funded by Saudi Arabia. After the Arab Spring, ISI expanded its ambitions of establishing an Islamic State to Syria and is now the ISIS, one of the most brutal and successful terrorist organizations in the world.
Caught between an evil dictator and evil extremists, millions of Syrians have been displaced and some have managed to flee their country, living in refugee camps in their neighbouring states. It is impossible to know how many refugees the Arab Gulf Countries have taken in because they haven’t signed with the UN to report these numbers, but officially they are 0.
These refugees are now fleeing to Europe in search of asylum but the continent has an unfortunate policy that they are to be housed in the country that they first enter, which puts an immense amount of pressure on the struggling countries such as Greece or Italy. In a remarkably humanitarian move by pretty much the lone voice in welcoming refugees in Europe, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, has been constantly supporting policies that allow more refugees into the EU and urging the rest of the EU countries to do the same.
Unfortunately, German polls show that this is putting their Chancellor of over a decade’s chances of getting re-elected this year at risk with the rise of anti-immigrant parties in Germany. The same is happening here in the US, with Donald Trump, Chief Xenophobe, standing a good chance of being the Republican nominee, halfway to the journey of being America’s next President.
The general assumption surrounding the Western, “developed” countries is that these countries are more liberal, well-organized, democratic, more advanced and, better overall, the leaders of the world. The refugee crisis has brought to light how disappointing these assumptions can be.
First, the insistence on calling these Syrians who are fleeing for their lives “migrants”. Migrants are people who willingly choose to move for presumably better lives. Refugees are fleeing for their lives from persecution. They need safety, they cannot be turned back to their home countries, where they might be killed, and cannot be penalized for illegally entering a country. The distinction is important because it’s the difference between addressing a very real problem in the world today and copping out.
Instead of closing off routes, Europe should be giving refugees a safe channel to spread through the continent. This would help everyone! The refugees get a home and Europe can safely run checks on the people that they are letting into the country. But, they don’t want to do this because if they made these dangerous journeys safe and easy, more refugees living in abysmal conditions would make the trip.
I don’t know when this problem will end or how, but for now governments of the world to come together to find a common solution. The citizens of the world, however, have been wonderful! If you’re here because you care about someone somewhere else in the world, good on you, mate! You’re brilliant, give yourself a pat on the back and go spread the word, write a blog post, donate or volunteer at UNHCR, if you haven’t already.
To end on a happier and more hopeful note, here is John Oliver. And about those applications…
We are writing history today.
This is our problem.
Until the war ends, we need to help these people how ever we can!