As U.S. attention focuses on ugly Republican debates, Syrians continue to die: some before they can escape the bombs, and others, after escaping, drowning in the Aegean Sea. Throughout the region, countries are overwhelmed with refugees. Jordan has 1.4 million refugees from all countries, including 600,000 since the 2011 beginning of the Syrian conflict. Turkey hosts 2.5 million refugees, and came under strong pressure from tens of thousands fleeing the February offensive in Aleppo by Syrian government forces and their Russian allies.
Many refugees remain in Syria, displaced from their homes, trapped in a war zone. Humanitarian aid reaches some, and is denied to others, “populations held captive by the government.” A Foreign Affairs article outlines the dilemma faced by UN and other disaster relief efforts, and criticizes the bargains reached with the Syrian government:
“Since getting aid to those in greatest need contradicts the government’s goal of maximizing civilian suffering in opposition-held territory, Damascus has continued to do everything it can to obstruct relief—asserting sovereignty at the diplomatic level while targeting doctors, hospitals, ambulances, and convoys on the ground.”
The article argues that UN agencies, in particular, have been subservient to the Syrian regime and that the effect of this subservience has been to bolster the regime and to undermine relief efforts of NGOs.
“OCHA’s defense that any aid delivered from Damascus is better than none has not been weighed against the human and financial cost of bolstering a regime that is deliberately increasing the hardship of people in opposition-held areas.” Humanitarian aid in such circumstances can sustain the violence that gives rise to the need for aid in the first place.
Meanwhile, refugees continue trying to make it to Europe, with “nearly 2,000 migrants …arriving in Europe daily, roughly 10 times last year’s average,” according to the Washington Post. Last year, one-third of the refugee arrivals were in Greece: this year, it’s 92 percent.
Many refugees drown in the attempt. A cemetery in Izmir, Turkey is a final resting place for many. According to the New York Times:
“As NATO dispatches warships to the Aegean Sea in a new effort to contain the flow of refugees coming through Turkey and on to Europe, the deaths keep piling up: at least 400 so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration. Already in 2016, more than 76,000 people — nearly 3,000 a day — have arrived in Greece from Turkey.”
NATO is trying to stop refugees at sea, deploying ships to deter smugglers taking migrants from Turkey to Greece. NATO officials say they are not trying to stop refugees, only to “help counter human trafficking and criminal networks.” But that’s not the only route: the BBC reports that “in 2014, almost 171,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean from Libya, compared with just over 50,000 who made the journey from Turkey.”
One refugee who survived after a boat capsized said death was their destiny, either in Syria or at sea.
Death does not have to be their destiny. In an eloquent op/ed in the Washington Post, actor Mandy Patinkin recounted his visit to Lesbos in November, and his plea to all Americans to open our hearts and borders and welcome Syrian refugees:
“’I saw death behind me and life in front of me.’ My family might have spoken the same words in Yiddish or Russian or Polish as they made their perilous journeys away from their homes. As I listened to the stories of these new generations of refugee families and thought of past generations of my own, the fear-mongering news cycles faded away, and I saw clearly that we cannot fight fear and hatred with more fear and hatred. … We must build relationships, get to know one another’s children, open our arms rather than close our hearts. … You can call your representatives and ask them to continue the long-held American tradition of refugee resettlement — with a specific focus right now on Syrian refugees.”
For further information:
- Annie Sparrow, Aiding Disaster. Foreign Affairs, 2/1/2016. <https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2016-02-01/aiding-disaster>
- Hundreds of refugees died on way to Europe this year. Al Jazeera, 2/9/2016. <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/02/400-refugees-die-europe-2016-160209133941502.html>
- UN urges Turkey to open border for Syrian refugees. Al Jazeera, 2/9/2016. <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/02/syrian-refugees-turkey-open-border-160209131028173.html>
- Niraj Chokshi, The stunning acceleration of Europe’s migration crisis, in one chart. Washington Post, 2/10/2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/02/10/the-stunning-acceleration-of-europes-migration-crisis-in-one-chart/>
- Mandy Patinkin. ‘Death behind me and life in front of me.’ Washington Post commentary, 12/4/2015. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/we-must-open-our-arms-to-refugees-rather-than-close-our-hearts/2015/12/04/5c115eb2-9951-11e5-8917-653b65c809eb_story.html>
- Syria refugees flee to Turkey border amid Aleppo attack. Al Jazeera, 2/7/2016. <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/02/turkey-open-border-syrian-refugees-160207113555928.html<
- Ceylin Yeginsu, Constant Tide of Migrants at Sea, and at Turkish Cemetery. New York Times, 2/13/2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/14/world/europe/constant-tide-of-migrants-at-sea-and-at-turkish-cemetery.html>
- Migrant crisis: Nato deploys Aegean people-smuggling patrols. BBC, 2/11/2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35549478>
- Rana F. Sweis, Jordan struggles under a wave of Syrian refugees. New York Times, 2/13/2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/14/world/middleeast/jordan-syria-refugees.html>
- Paul Adams, Migrants turn to Greece-Turkey route to Europe. BBC, 6/15/2015. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-33020600>