Syria was once the heart of Middle Eastern culture and commerce. The country was an important province in the Roman Empire, known for its trade routes and ports.
More than four years of war have destroyed Syria’s heritage and culture, its history lost due to ramifications of war. Day in and day out, ISIS is annihilating the nation in the name of religion and ideology. Syria has now become the center of a civil war, overrun with death and destruction.
Europe has always had immigrants arriving from neighboring countries. But there has been a recent influx in this population. Forced by desperation and war, people have been forced to leave their countries and flee in order to survive.
Each day thousands of migrants can be seen arriving, not only from Syria but also from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Eritrea. People along with their families are crossing the dangerous Mediterranean waters to Europe in the hope for a better future. The recent tragic death of a 3-year-old boy, the photo of which have been printed worldwide, has forced the Western nations to realize their failure in tackling the crisis. The toddler, along with other refugees, was crossing over to the Greek island of Kos from Turkey when the boat that he was in toppled over. There were 11 dead along with five children.
Refugees travel approximately 1300 km from Syria through Turkey to reach Greek shores. This year, the Greek islands have seen the arrival of 1,25,000 refugees. These refugees are simply looking for the quickest way out.
The European Union (EU) is divided in its opinion regarding the crisis. Eastern and Western Europe have clashed over their responses regarding the situation. Germany and Austria have been commended for opening its door for refugees while other countries like Hungary are doing the exact opposite. Recently 71 refugees suffocated in a truck in Austria, with the death toll having reached around 3000 for the year. Some leaders believe that Europe is more than competent to accommodate the refugees.
Slovakia was been highly criticized for refusing to take in non-Christian refugees. Hungarian forces stopped a train full of refugees from moving to Germany and other countries. People were forced off the train leading to protests and standoffs. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban blamed Germany for the crisis and its open-door policy regarding asylum seekers. He stated, “The moral, human thing is to make clear: ‘Please don’t come. Why do you have to go from Turkey to Europe? Turkey is a safe country. Stay there. It’s risky to come,’ ”. Orban, known for his anti-immigrant policies, believes that by setting up a 175 km long wire fence, he is protecting “European Christianity against a Muslim influx”.
Britain has been criticized for accepting only a few hundred refugees. Finally succumbing under international and domestic pressure, Prime Minister David Cameron has agreed to take in “thousands more” refugees while pledging up to a billion euros. Earlier he was convinced that acceptance of refugees would worsen the crisis as more people would be encouraged to cross the Mediterranean, thus motivating illegal trafficking gangs. The change of heart could be a result of the increase in crisis or the image of the dead toddler catching the public’s attention.
Germany and France have called upon EU to force its member countries to take in more refugees. The “Dublin Regulation” states that the asylum seeker will be returned to the country the migrant first sought asylum in. Germany suspended the Dublin Regulation for Syrian refugees and was followed by the Czech Republic. EU states have so far committed to accepting around 32,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece. There is a need for EU states to contribute and share responsibility. German Chancellor, Angela Merkel urged other nations to relieve the burden on Germany by equitable intake of the migrant population.
Germany is expected to receive 8,00,000 asylum-seekers this year. It has taken up 40% of the migrant population. Ms. Hermanin and Mr. Betts of Oxford University say that “sharing even 310,000 people among the 28 countries of the European Union “should not be unmanageable,” and that the numbers pale when compared with the 3.5 million Syrian refugees that Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon alone are hosting.”
Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner stated that the Austria would not use any force against the migrants and would welcome them to seek asylum there. While many people decided to cross the border on foot after tracks were blocked, Austrians held signs like “Refugees welcome”. Some sought asylum there, while others moved on towards Germany. Officials stated that this was just a one-time thing, and a permanent solution was still required.
Various groups have joined hands to help out the people in the midst of the crisis. Médecins sans Frontière, a medical aid group that has been helping to reduce migrant death at sea by saving and treating them since May, in collaboration with another aid group, Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS). Mr. Guterres, of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), urged the EU to accept up to 2,00,000 refugees with the “mandatory participation” of the all its members.
Violence is not the way to tackle the migrant situation. Building fences, using tear gas and other violent acts is not going to stop the inflow of refugees. The humanitarian crisis needs a long term and permanent solution. “A human rights-based, coherent and comprehensive migration policy which makes mobility its central asset”, as stated by a UN expert. Political leaders need to realize their humanitarian responsibility and help the refugees.