Most Europeans know that their countries have some of the best social-security systems in the world – and many outside the wealthy economic bloc know it too.
That includes those roaming in search of safety inside Syria – an estimated 7 million of them. They find themselves stuck between the firepower of the Assad regime, bombarding and destroying cities held by rebel forces, and ISIS, which controls large swathes of Syria’s countryside.
And an estimated 4 million Syrians are choosing to leave the war-torn country in search of a better future for their children and families, even if that means making the unsafe journey by sea, or on the highways of Europe, to get to safety.
The European nations should not fail Syrians a second time, when called to take in people fleeing the conflict.Mohamed Chebarro
Many in refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan are constantly weighing their options. Their dilemma is whether to stay in camps – which offer them less and less every day, with international funds depleted after years of conflict – or to make a final run and seek asylum, with all the danger that entails.
The crisis in Syria has so far left more than a quarter of a million Syrians dead and more than a million injured, maimed, tortured or imprisoned.
Some Syrians with families in the Gulf states were allowed to settle in the region, despite the firm immigration rules in those nations. They were given access to education, healthcare and the right to work.
Any Syrian would be pushed towards the desperate choice to migrate or seek asylum. It is not because they are greedy, or hold anyone responsible for the war in their country. It is because after more than four years, their savings are running out, some of their children are not getting an education, and the healthcare they have been provided with by charitable organizations may soon run out.
A new chapter
On top of this, it is clear to many that the conflict has recently entered a new chapter with the arrival of Russian troops.
For years, Lebanese Hezbollah militia, with guidance from Iran, have tried to help the Syrian regime crush the uprising – with fighters from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan joining in.
On the other hand, opposition Syrian fighters received funding and military hardware from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and even the United States.
All of this made it evident to civilians in Syria that tipping the balance towards peace is next to impossible in the foreseeable future, given the complex mix of international players involved in Syria’s many conflicts. It is a war between the regime and its people, as well as between Iran and the core Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. It is a hidden war between Arabs, the Turks and Persians; it is part of the global war on terror; and it is a war between the U.S. and its European allies against Russia, over the Ukraine issue.
For all these reasons and more, Syrians are fleeing, hoping for a better future, even if it means crossing Europe’s barbed-wire fences.
For the Europeans in the north such as the Germans or Swedish, or the smaller southern and eastern nations of Hungary, Macedonia and Greece, the surge in refugee numbers is alarming.
Yet migration is as old as the world, with those seeking better, richer and safer lives having been moving around the globe for millennia.
Along with thousands of Syrians, refugees include Kurds, Iraqis, Palestinians from refugee camps in Syria and other Arab nations, Iranian Kurds or other minorities in Iran, and Afghanis. And the newcomers also include Africans fleeing conflicts or poverty in nations like Somalia and Eritrea.
Immigration an old theme
The issue of immigration has been ongoing in Europe for decades, with many refugees, migrants or economic migrants receiving generous state benefits since well before the Syrian crisis.
This was witnessed in Europe with the Bosnia and Kosovo conflicts. Even when the EU was moving to include new states in Eastern Europe, we heard loud voices from the ultra-right parties, objecting to countries such as Poland or Romania being allowed to join. This saw the issue of immigration become a main theme of manifestos of many political parties in Europe.
All of the above needs to be considered when it comes to discussing the policies and means to deal with Syrians hoping for asylum. The Syrians are simply following a basic survival instinct and the human trait to seek a better existence.
The mechanisms of multilateral international organizations have been in place to prevent conflicts similar to what is happening in Syria today. But it seems these same mechanisms is failing hundreds of thousands of Syrians.
And so these European nations should not fail Syrians a second time, when called to take in people fleeing the conflict – whether you call them migrants, immigrants or asylum seekers.
Mohamed Chebarro is currently an Al Arabiya TV News program editor. He is also an award winning journalist, roving war reporter and commentator. He covered most regional conflicts in the 90s for MBC News and later headed Al Arabiya’s bureau in Beirut and London.