As millions pour out of Syria, former Motley editor Aisling Twomey asks who is now responsible for their protection.
There is no guidebook on how to be a refugee. “Asylum Seeking for Dummies” hasn’t been written and there is no user-friendly, multi-lingual bible of rights provided to you when you flee your country to save your life. Being a refugee is lonely and isolating and at its core, frightening.
For those in Syria, as the stories of chemical warfare emerge for international consideration, the truth is that millions of people are under severe threat every single day. Unwilling to risk their lives for a war they did not make, civilians are leaving Syria in thousands every day, leaving everything behind except what they can carry in frantic moments of flight.
There are now more than 2 million Syrian refugees who have poured out of the state to neighbouring lands with no certain timetable for return. Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq are sharing the heavy burden of sheltering them. Given the difficult situation in Egypt and the present lack of stability of its political power, is it wise that over 100,000 Syrians temporarily call it home? As Egypt works to ban the Muslim Brotherhood and attempts to re-develop a core system of democratic participation, they are also trying to shelter over 80,000 Syrians.
Iraq remains a country notable for its own civilian asylum seekers, gone abroad in their thousands to find peace and new hope, yet today they host over 200,000 Syrian refugees. In Jordan, the Zataari refugee camp was opened in July of 2012 to provide temporary accommodation to fleeing Syrians a year after the civil war began. Just one year later, Zataari houses 144,000 people and is the fourth largest city in Jordan.
It should be shocking to consider that Syrian refugees are moving in such large numbers as to entirely change the population demographic of neighbouring states, but that is the reality. 8,000 Syrians fled the country each day in February 2013.
From one war torn country to another, Syrians are facing destitution, isolation, malnutrition, violence and death in refugee camps built with the best of intentions to provide sanctuary, but sorely lacking in security, support and provisions. Money and time are precious commodities, and right now, the international humanitarian system simply does not have enough of either.
Today, Europe hosts around 30 000 Syrian refugees – a pitifully small number compared to the 2,000,000 now seeking protection.
The UNHCR currently operates the largest appeal in history for the Syrian Protection effort. With over $5 billion needed to bolster the support structure, and new details of atrocities in Syria emerging every day, there are questions to be asked as to European responsibility. The United States has pledged over $800 million in aid to Syria, and will permanently resettle 2,000 refugees in America. In Germany, asylum has been granted to 8,000 refugees since 2012 and Sweden has accepted a further 8,000 thus far. But when 3,000 asylum seekers, mostly women and children, flood into Kurdistan every day across a long dirt road in the baking heat, why is Europe not doing more?
Since 2011, 20,000 Syrian refugees have had the misfortune to land in Greece, a significant port of entry for refugees into the European Union. Greece, a country notorious for its atrocious immigration policy has imprisoned, tried or immediately deported numerous refugees. In the past few months, it is estimated that over 2,000 Syrians were detained in Greece. The reality is that the Syrian crisis is the first test of the recently lauded Common Asylum System, updated during the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The Syrian test, if we are to call it that, has so far only shown that the European asylum system remains defunct, ineffective and unjust. Sweden alone has made strong statements in favour of the abandoned Syrians; they have agreed to accept all Syrian asylum seekers arriving to their borders seeking protection.
In early 2013, Ireland announced a €5 million pledge of aid to Syria, which has since been bolstered by the promise of a further €1.65 million. But with such staggering numbers of asylum seekers struggling to survive, Ireland has promised to accept a mere handful for permanent resettlement- originally, the figure was 30, though Ireland has now accepted roughly 50. That’s fifty people out of over two million; mere millionths of a percentage. It is a number so small that it is practically negligible.
Throughout history, Europe has seen its crises and gratefully accepted the help of others after World War II, the horror of the Holocaust, or the Yugoslav Wars just twenty years ago. Today, Europe hosts around 30 000 Syrian refugees – a pitifully small number compared to the 2 000 000 now seeking protection. Europe, through poor policy decisions and lack of commitment, is aiding the spread of violence in refugee camps in the Middle East. We are all playing an active role in the destruction of an entire population who are asking for nothing more than safety.
Across Europe, immigration is a hot debate topic. Many commentators believe that Europe should protect its borders to cement its own economic recovery. But the harsh reality is that Syrian refugees are not economic migrants – they are victims of a crisis, a war that nobody is winning. Their children have been gassed to death near their homes- and if they escape, they are more likely to be jailed in Europe than welcomed with the freedom they deserve.
‘Asylum Seeking for Dummies’ needs to be written and then read widely by the governments of Europe who are failing abjectly in their responsibilities to a nation of people with nothing left to lose.