We are all to blame for Europe’s refugee crisis

European politicians are far concerned about not receiving more migrants than...

H.A. Hellyer
H.A. Hellyer
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Modern media can be a rather terrible thing: an assault on one’s senses. Then again, perhaps sometimes we ought to suffer the effect of that, while being totally aware of what we are getting ourselves into. Because it appears we suffer another effect at present: being oblivious to the suffering and destruction visited upon the noble and beautiful people of Syria.

Fifty years ago, we would not have been able to see the gruesome killings carried out by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or the chemical attacks against civilians, blamed by much of the world on the Syrian regime. As human beings, the more we see such things up front and personal, the more we become normalized to it and see it as ordinary.

That has an effect on the human psyche that we should not underestimate. I do not want my children’s generation to look at images of horror, except to recoil in horror and be motivated to do something about it. The more we see such images, however, the more they become typical to us.

For that reason, I have not wanted to look at pictures of young Syrian refugees, especially Aylan Kurdi, the toddler who drowned en route to Europe, trying to escape the ravages of war in a rubber dinghy. In that same rickety craft, according to reports, was his five-year-old brother Galip, his mother Rihan, and 10 more people. We do not have pictures of them.

Much is being made of the fact that these refugees felt they had to take a rubber dingy, rather than be allowed access to European states on the basis of suffering a tremendous humanitarian crisis in Syria.

Criticism is being levelled at Europe for treating the refugee crisis with such callousness, making it ever more difficult for refugees to reach our shores, and more likely that hundreds and thousands will die in the process. Such criticism is wholly justifiable, because European politicians are far concerned about not receiving more migrants than they are about dealing with this humanitarian crisis.

European politicians are far concerned about not receiving more migrants than they are about dealing with this humanitarian crisis.

H.A. Hellyer

Some politicians appear happy to allow the southern-most states to bear the brunt of ‘dealing’ with the issue (and they are not dealing with it well), rather than turn this into a Europe-wide issue that requires a Europe-wide response - a response that would make successive generations proud of ours rather than ashamed of it.

However, there are two greater criticisms to be made. There is a reason why European states are the destination for these refugees: because they do not think they have many other places to go. If they manage to get to Europe, they believe, they may not be treated well, but if they make the trip they will have a way to survive.

These refugees are Syrians. They are part of the Arab world - they come from its heart. Some countries in the region have accepted a substantial number of refugees. Turkey, which is not part of the Arab world, hosts almost 2 million Syrian refugees. Lebanon has more than a million, and Jordan almost 750,000. However, within the richest parts of the Arab world - the Gulf states - the number of Syrian refugees is embarrassingly low.

There are more Syrian refugees in Brazil - across the Atlantic Ocean - than there are in most Gulf states. Even small countries such as Armenia or Austria have accepted more Syrian refugees than most Gulf states, which have far more wealth. How can that be?

In 100 years, will historians note that ‘Arab unity’ meant Syrians were unable to find refuge in the most affluent Arab countries, and had to flee elsewhere, often many thousands of miles away? Is that the legacy that is to be inherited?

There is another criticism to be made - not simply of Europe or the Arab world, but of the international community. Kurdi’s life ended tragically, but the international community could have avoided such an outcome. The refugee crisis is part of the humanitarian crisis, beyond which is the state in which the people of Syria find themselves.

This terrible conflict has raged for four years, and will be marked as the great and awful disaster of our generation. How great the human cost, and how little effort from the international community to confront it. Syrians have suffered from the tyranny of President Bashar al-Assad, the extremism of ISIS, and the unwillingness of the international community to truly deal with both.

As we gaze at the pictures of young innocence like those of Kurdi, let us remember that we could have saved him and many others. Will we allow his death to pass us by, after the likes and shares on social media? The people of Syria deserve far better than that.

Dr. H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, the Royal United Services Institute, and the Harvard University Kennedy School, previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer.

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