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Refugee death scenes are the West’s moral failure

The failure to prevent thousands of Syrians is a moral failure of the greatest proportions

Brooklyn Middleton

Published: Updated:

Several tiny, doll-like bodies – with no visible injuries - washed ashore in Libya this week. At least one little girl wore a blue and white polka dot dress and at least a couple other young children still had shoes or socks on their lifeless feet. One small boy was still wearing his diaper.

The exact death toll resulting from several families’ attempts to flee Syria and several other countries for Europe, on two boats, remains unknown. The latest reports indicate this one catastrophe has left approximately 150 people dead while at least another 40 remain unaccounted for. At the same time that search and rescue efforts continued on the Mediterranean, authorities discovered an abandoned truck filled with 71 refugees, including at least four children, on an Austrian highway. The majority were likely Syrian refugees and every single person inside was dead. Photos from the macabre scene show body fluids seeping out of the truck’s back doors, spilling onto the ground. They died under conditions so grim it likely compared to the horror the refugees managed to escape in Syria. Only two days later, Austrian security forces once again intercepted yet another truck packed full with refugees; at least three severely dehydrated children were among the 23 other people.

The number of dead refugees – suffocated in a truck while temperatures climb to nearly 90 degrees or drowned in unforgiving seas - are stacking up so quickly in Europe, it is difficult to keep track of the reports.

The failure to prevent thousands of Syrians, who miraculously escaped the murderous Assad regime, from drowning or suffocating to death, is a moral failure of the greatest proportions

Brooklyn Middleton

In late June 2014, the United Nations reported that the world was facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. A calamity, the U.N. noted, caused mostly by the bloody conflict in Syria. According to U.N. figures, in 2014, at least 219,000 refugees and migrants attempted to reach Europe; approximately 3,500 of those people died or vanished.

Directly aiding Syrian civilians

This year the number of people attempting to do the same swelled to at least 300,000. Already in 2015, 2,500 people have died or remain unaccounted for. Boarding a boat with your children by your side - in full awareness the likeliness of death is extremely high - is tantamount to jumping out of a building engulfed in flames to avoid being burned alive. Without attempting to provide any sustainable solutions, the West and the Arab world are, unconscionably, telling thousands they should not attempt to flee and should instead burn to death. For the international community, especially the United States, to ignore the plight of asylum seekers as they’ve ignored the plight of trapped civilians in Syria would be yet another stunning failure.

At what point does the West attempt to directly aid Syrian civilins? If not when the death toll skyrockets to 320,000 nor when chlorine attacks continue unabated, then perhaps when those who have remarkably survived such barbarity attempt to flee to safety. Last month, Al Monitor reported that by September the United States, “will have accepted 2,000 Syrian refugees for permanent resettlement.” Meanwhile, according to UNHCR reports, 1,938,999 registered Syrian refugees remain in Turkey, another 1,113,941 in Lebanon (though official registrations were halted in May) - and over half a million refugees have fled to Jordan. The fact that the U.S. has failed to find a more efficient and timely approach to resettling Syrian families underscores DC’s failure to confront the humanitarian toll of the conflict. At the same time, some Arab states have also failed to shoulder the responsibility; in December 2014 an Amnesty International Report revealed that Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had collectively resettled 0 Syrian families.

In what is an initiative to be emulated, Germany has announced it will allow Syrian refugees to stay in the country and apply for asylum without risk of deportation. Most importantly, Berlin will no longer comply with the Dublin procedure, which dictates refugees must apply for asylum in whatever European country they first enter. The decision is hopeful but other European nations must show equally as proactive measures.

The failure to prevent thousands of Syrians, who miraculously escaped the murderous Assad regime, from drowning or suffocating to death, is a moral failure of the greatest proportions. Every effort must be made to dismantle human trafficking networks whose leaders prey and profit on the utterly vulnerable. At the same time, refugees must not be forced to resort to such horrendously dangerous measures nor be told to stay in their violence-wrecked country and burn to death.


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Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.