The heartbreaking image of a drowned Syrian toddler washed up on the shores of Turkey in a desperate attempt to flee his home for safety in Europe has ignited a conversation about the world’s inadequate and inhumane response to the the worst refugee crisis of our era.
While the rise of the terrorist organization, the Islamic State of Syria, is responsible for the influx of refugees into Europe and beyond, the West is not completely devoid of guilt in their handling of the epidemic.
The United States has been linked by politicians, including President Obama, for creating the conditions necessary for ISIS to grow and thrive, specifically citing President Bush’s 2003 Iraq invasion.
Yet, as the International Business Times notes, ISIS is not the sole cause for the quick escalation of the refugee crisis — Britain is also to blame for keeping a corrupt government in power.
The UK’s failure to act accordingly on the Syrian conflict has given rise to a mass of violence and destruction that has internally displaced almost eight million Syrians and encouraged another four million to flee. IBT calls out the government’s refusal to involve themselves militarily in the conflict, but as we have seen with the US — aiding Syrian rebels to fight ISIS and the Syrian government — pumping more violence into the region only breeds further chaos.
Adding a third party to fight severely deepens the destruction, so a diplomatic response would be the appropriate solution, but any vital action or effort on Britain's part to quell the crisis significantly has been absent.
Instead in 2013, a parliamentary vote stopped Syria from enacting military force against Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad. The response to shrug our shoulders and ignore an international human rights problem has led the Syrian government to “violate the United Nations Resolution 2118 (the framework for the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons) at least 87 times.” And while ISIS is the media’s villain in this ongoing news story (and rightfully so), too often the Syrian government’s brutality goes amiss as they have killed seven times more civilians than the heinous terrorist group has.
And the UK continues their appalling lack of support and casual oblivion by further demonstrating how utterly careless they are in regards to Syrian lives.
Britain and Hungary are most egregious in their treatment of refugees. While making grandiose statements relating to caring about migrants, these countries are, in fact, doing quite the opposite.
Prime Minster David Cameron has taken a hardliner position that the UK should not take in any more refugees — despite the viral image of a drowned refugee boy that signals a call to action for Europe to step up its response.
“We have taken a number of genuine asylum seekers from Syrian refugee camps and we keep that under review, but we think the most important thing is to try to bring peace and stability to that part of the world,” Cameron said.
“I don’t think there is an answer that can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees.”
Thankfully, other British politicians think differently.
“When mothers are desperately trying to stop their babies from drowning when their boat has capsized, when people are being left to suffocate in the backs of lorries by evil gangs of traffickers and when children’s bodies are being washed to shore, Britain needs to act,” British Labor Party politician, Yvette Cooper, said.
“It is heartbreaking what is happening on our continent. We cannot keep turning our backs on this. We can – and must – do more. If every area in the UK took just 10 families, we could offer sanctuary to 10,000 refugees. Let’s not look back with shame at our inaction.”
On Friday, Cameron changed his mind — seemingly amidst the growing pressure — announcing the UK will take in "thousands" more refugees and provide an additional over $150 million in aid to camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, according to the BBC.
Hungary has also taken a hardliner position on the refugee crisis, responding to the desperate refugees with closed doors.
While denying access to the country, Hungary has tried to distance themselves from the issue by calling it out as Germany’s problem — not Europe’s.
“Nobody would like to stay in Hungary,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said during a press conference. “All of them would like to go to Germany.”
The Associated Press reports that Hungary plans to send 3,500 troops to the country’s border with Serbia to prevent migrants from crossing over, and is even building a fence along the border to further block migrants from entering.
But Orban doesn’t see his government’s actions as inhumane.
“If we would create ... an impression that ‘just come because we are ready to accept everybody,’ that would be a moral failure,” he said. “The moral, human thing is to make clear: Please don’t come.”
While Vocativ data calculated that the UK came in at 15th in helping migrants, Hungary remains the least generous to the human rights cause in accepting asylum seekers.
While the West certainly has blood on their hands, the East is not absolved of the refugee crisis either.
Syria :( The response of the arab countries is disgraceful pic.twitter.com/My5SneOuT3— KOTAK SUARA (@gengbebel) September 3, 2015
The six richest Gulf nations of United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain have refused to offer sanctuary to a single Syrian refugee.
None of these countries have signed the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention, which lays out refugees’ rights and necessary actions to safeguard them, and they rarely grant tourist visas or work permits to refugees (although these countries have generously welcomed other Arab immigrants and made them citizens, as the Washington Post notes).
While they have donated funds and resources to refugees, the donations of under $1 billion pales in comparison to what the US and UK have given.
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As Bobby Ghosh, managing editor of the news site Quartz, points out these oil-rich states are completely capable in handling the massive influx of refugees.
Ghosh writes, “Saudi Arabia has plenty of expertise at managing large numbers of arrivals: It receives an annual surge of millions of Hajj pilgrims to Mecca. There’s no reason all this knowhow can’t be put to humanitarian use.”
Furthermore these nations have the ability to provide shelter for the refugees, noting they “have built the gleaming towers of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Riyadh” so there is no doubt they can “quickly build housing for the refugees.”
But the states’ unwillingness to help stems from the woefully inaccurate argument that terrorists are fleeing with the refugees, deceitfully disguising themselves as migrants.
These countries rank in the world’s top 50 GDPs and have huge military budgets, but are mostly interested in lavishly showcasing their wealth rather than helping humanity.
The king of Saudi Arabia is meeting with President Obama in Washington D.C. on Friday to discuss the controversial Iran deal. For his visit, King Salman bought out the entire Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, even redecorating it by laying out red carpets in the parking garage.
Yet Arab citizens of these nations are not letting their countries get away with their hypocrisy and blatant refusal to help refugees.
Using the hashtag “receiving refugees is the people’s demand,” Arab citizens are shaming their governments and calling on them to enact the right response.
Germany is the only country that seems to genuinely care about the plight of refugees and is actively working to resolve the issue.
Germany is expected to see up to 800,000 refugees by the end of 2015 coming into their country, the Huffington Post reports, and the country is willing to take on the big numbers.
According to the Huffington Post:
“On Aug. 25, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees announced that the country had suspended the Dublin Regulation -- an EU rule that requires refugees to seek asylum in the first European country they arrive -- for Syrians. The change effectively allows all Syrian refugees to apply for asylum in Germany.”
Furthermore, Germany has suggested a quota system, where EU member states can evenly distribute migrants, but countries like Hungary, unsurprisingly, reject the proposal.
On Sept. 14, EU leaders will be meet for an emergency discussion on plans for a swift course of action to the refugee crisis.
"If Europe fails on the question of refugees, this close connection with universal civil rights ... will be destroyed and it won't be the Europe we want," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told press on Sunday.
But can the EU actually responsibly collaborate for a unified solution? The political structure indicates it can handle the weight, but governments’ incompetence suggests otherwise.