Refugee crises need long-term solutions

It seems to me that some opportunistic Western politicians are exploiting the refugee crises to feather their own nests by appealing to voters fearful of being culturally swamped and threatened economically. They tap in to people’s nationalistic instincts engendering contempt for the other, rendering ‘compassion’ to the status of a dirty word.

More than 1,000 migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe have drowned this year, 200 of those within a three-day period at the beginning of this month, among them babies. Yet their tragic end has failed to spark the kind of mass outrage as the death of Alan Kurdi, a Syrian toddler whose body washed up on a Turkish beach near Bodrum during the summer of 2015 provoked. Although numbers have dramatically decreased this year, EU leaders have thrown their backing behind anti-immigration heads of state out to create a fortress Europe to the extent rescue boats have been demonised, their owners warned that they are breaking laws against human trafficking.

Even Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel who generously opened her country’s doors to over a million mainly Syrian refugees in 2015 has been forced by coalition partners to alter course for the sake of her political longevity.

Malta has grounded a rescue aeroplane operated by Sea Watch, a German NGO. Italy’s new populist government is turning away rescue vessels loaded with migrants from its shores.

Incredibly, the EU now expects North African countries—prime among them Libya where people smugglers and slavers flourish in a lawless environment—to shoulder their own burden by setting up migrant reception centres on their soil, but unsurprisingly there have been no takers. The leaders of Libya, Morocco, Algeria and Egypt have all refused Europe’s attempt to pass the buck.

The plight of refugees is a problem that warrants all impacted nations to come together to find solutions. The Arab world is bearing more than its share of the burden.

Egypt’s Parliamentary Speaker says his country “already has about 10 million refugees from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, Sudan, Somalia and other countries,” living freely.

Cash-strapped Jordan hosts 1.4 million Syrian refugees, more than 10,000 Iraqi Christians and over two million registered Palestinian refugees.

One of Lebanon’s claims to fame is its hosting of the highest concentration of refugees, mostly, Syrian and Palestinian, on the planet. In recent years, refugees have constituted 30 per cent of Lebanon’s population, at times bringing this tiny country to breaking point.

In comparison, wealthy Europe’s refugee intake is a drop in the ocean and, in many respects, Europe has been the author of its own fate due to its partnership in US-led military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya that severely destabilised those countries which all evolved into terrorist hotbeds or economic basket cases as a result.

The Western allies’ policies in Syria have also been a contributing factor to extending the civil war. Simply put, their backing of armed extremists to topple the Al Assad regime has been a mammoth failure. With the help of his friends, Russia, Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, Syria’s president has regained all territories with the exception of Idlib controlled by Turkey and Dara’a where rebel groups have now agreed to surrender.

It doesn’t look like Bashar Al Assad is going anywhere. Moreover, according to Ha’aretz, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is presently resigned to that unpalatable reality provided the regime disassociates itself from Iranian influence.

The bottom line is that wars waged under fake pretences or under the spurious pretext of furthering democracy are the main cause of the desperate exodus from Arab states while the majority of asylum seekers from Africa are economic migrants fleeing from poverty, starvation and oppression.

Forcing traumatised human beings into virtual prison camps, hardening hearts as they are swallowed by the depths or, in the case of the US separating parents from children as a deterrent, are not only the antithesis of the values upon which Western democracies were built but also have been accused of recreating a scenario similar to the climate in 1930s Germany.

People do not leave their birthplace, their loved ones and risk their lives for the fun of it. Most would like nothing more than to be able to return home. Indeed, Syrian refugees are beginning to return in large numbers.

Instead of slapping cruel sticking plasters onto the problem, the international community should work to come-up with long-term answers based on humanitarian values such as alleviating poverty rather than hegemonic ambitions fuelling sectarian violence and terrorism.

Those countries which are arguably suffering from karmic retribution should quit their meddling in the internal affairs of other states; they should open their pockets wide to rebuild, reconstruct infrastructure and invest in industries to create job opportunities.

Rather than give billions to Turkey to be their subcontracted jailer they should redirect those funds together with many billions more to help afflicted regions in the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. It is beyond time for wealthy Western states to put cash and expertise where their bullets once were and their indifference sadly still is.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at heardonthegrapevines@yahoo.co.uk.

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