The civil war in Syrian appeared to many to be part of the so called "Arab Spring", a wave of cries for independence from those subject to authoritarian rule in the Middle East. However, as this cartoon succinctly explains, the biggest underlying cause of the Syrian War was in fact, Climate Change. The exodus from the rural areas of Syria when crops failed during the worst drought in the region on record destabilised urban areas - and what might have been a simmering dissatisfaction exploded.
Syria should be a lesson for us all.
The current, tragic refugee situation is also in no small part due to our intervention in Iraq under Labour which destabilised the Middle East and precipitated the "Arab Spring". The West then misguidedly, largely under public pressure, supported and funded the opposition to Assad in Syria. That initial opposition was in no small part what we today know as ISIS.
For all these reasons international responsibility should be accepted and consensus sought to respond to the situation. All agree crisis management is not enough, a coherent long-term policy is needed to deal with the problem at source. That would need renewed international efforts to sort out the civil war in Syria and destroy IS, yet neither is likely to happen any time soon. We can't even get past the initial emotional response, let alone begin to tease apart the facts. The public got it wrong before - and should bear a large chunk of responsibility for the current strength of ISIS and Russian support for Assad, people should think carefully about an over-reaction to a heart-wrenching situation. The power of social media and our thirst for a "quick fix" of news perpetuates knee-jerk responses to events. We must not lose sight of the bigger picture though and engage our brains as well as our hearts before responding. Even worse, viewing events elsewhere through the spectacles of our own lives distorts reality further.
Allison Pearson wrote succinctly in The Telegraph,
"Most Syrians want to stay in their country or close by. Instead of the siren calls luring them across the sea to an uncertain fate, they need our practical help on the ground to give them food, shelter and the strength, one day, to take their homeland back."
True. We should never forget the appalling reality that is life for many, in a war-torn country struggling to survive and leave fellow human beings to "get on with it". The video below has a powerful message.
Images like this video and the photo below matter, because we live in a global environment, where ignoring events on the other side of the planet no longer buys you peaceful and ignorant isolationism. We can't pick and choose which parts of the world take our interest, we have a responsibility to consider the whole which in turn impacts on every one of us. But images that focus on individuals are only part of the story. No conflict is ever won by identifying with the individual - and the same is true of international crises.
|Courtesy of Bengin Ahmad|
The media's current obsession with a "refugee crisis" - which is very real and affecting many people in different areas of the Middle East and Africa - neglects the migrant crisis and the longer term impact of the "Arab Spring". In fact most of those people you see on TV are not asylum seekers, but migrants who are opportunistically seeking to enter a more affluent country at a time when national borders are struggling to cope. Many have even held jobs for several years in countries they have already claimed asylum. Today the BBC began to acknowledge this. Confusing refugees with migrants has also precipitated an hysterical response from many including celebrities engaged in an unpleasant "caring one-upmanship" because a boy died tragically crossing from Turkey. But that's just a tiny part of the real situation.
The real people suffering are those in the refugee camps, who have yet to claim asylum, whom the World Food Programme and UNICEF are trying to support. Those people whose funding has been cut by all governments except the UK as they struggle to finance the mass migration of those who have already successfully claimed asylum, but who seek to move further to better themselves.
Whilst that's highly understandable no one mentions that according to the Dublin Agreement refugees must claim asylum in the first country they reach and cannot make multiple claims. That some fellow muslim nations nearby are doing nothing and Saudi Arabia has tens of thousands of air conditioned tents on their border close to Syria. That many people on the boats are seizing the opportunity when they have been several years in Turkey, with jobs and homes there. That those taking vast sums to smuggle these migrants are bankrolling ISIS who are also using the current crisis to get fighters across into Europe. And that the boy who tragically died was not even a refugee. He had a home in Turkey for 3 years and his mother wanted to stay. His father wanted to join family in Canada but lacked legal means to do so.
Last week I said that Europe wouldn't maintain its open borders and already many countries are closing theirs. There is little support for free migration in any country in the world, and most leaders recognise that their first duty is to the people whom they represent. Increasing a population by even 1% overnight has an enormous long term impact on resources and prosperity, can threaten national security, national health and well being. We should be helping the refugees, those rendered stateless due to conflict in Syria, but evacuating vast numbers in an uncontrolled way is sure to precipitate dangerous tensions across Europe and leaves a vacuum in the Middle East which will destabilise the situation further.
Short-termism has become endemic in world (as well as domestic) politics, but we must take our heads out of the proverbial sand and look beyond the here and now or the future will take us by surprise once again.