Monday, 14 September 2015

Action not Sympathy

Syria has been in the news for so long that many people have stopped listening. The unfolding media story about the current refugee crisis has appeared almost as if by magic - the underlying causes distant and poorly understood because they don't make headlines. But understanding the causes is always important because that is the key to improving the future. Increased objectivity requires subjectivity - not snapshots of current events divorced from their past.

The civil war in Syria 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.

"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. 

This isn't new, and I've seen it before, which is perhaps even sadder since the war in Syria is now so old. But the...

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.


  1. I definitely agree that we need to take action to do something to help - I'm just not sure what I can do personally other than donate money and help raise awareness x

  2. I am finding the whole refugee thing really upsetting. More so because people that I thought I knew are posting things that sicken me.

    1. I guess the misreporting and misrepresentation by the media doesn't help. Even the Pope today pointed out that many moving into Europe are not Refugees but Migrants and are increasingly likely to include those supporting IS.

    2. I feel exactly the same as Jen. The whole situation is shocking :(

  3. Quite a few organisations in my area are asking for donations of old clothes, (new) toiletries etc which we are more than happy to give. I have stopped watching and reading the news as its breaking my heart to see all those people in such a horrible situation

  4. I find the whole thing so difficult. I'd be the first to admit that I don't know enough about it all to offer an objective opinion. Sadly I think that applies to most people who are giving their opinion.

  5. I find this whole thing really difficult and I saddens me when I see people I thought are my friends posting sickening updates about refugees. I start to wonder who I was friends with. Why some people just can't use their brains and look through this all - they post so much "media created" stuff it upsets! When I go on facebook half of my friends write stuff I would never have imagined them writing. How can you deny people fleeing from war torn countries a better life? We take things like this for granted and I wish we never have to be like those people escaping from our countries and leaving our houses behind. European countries politicians started this war by participating in American affairs in Middle East - when they shouldn't! I'm about to pack a lot of stuff mostly clothes and tinned food and some sanitary items for women and drop them off at my local help centre. At least this is something I can do :)

  6. It is a really tricky one but I think that our first response to it should always be compassion. Yes, obviously not everyone stays in the first country they arrive in but to be fair if they did then how many refugees would countries like the UK, Ireland or Scandanavian countries get? The refugee camps and rights of refugees in some first destination countries can be pretty bad too.

  7. I am afraid I do not know enough about the situation to offer an objective comment, but you are right - the people will mostly be wanting to stay in their homeland so we should be helping them achieve this by providing food, shelter and aid

  8. Hi Kate.
    This is a terrible and heart breaking situation. Your post was an interesting read and actually pointed out some facts that I was actually unaware of.

  9. The whole situation is so upsetting it is hard to know what is true sometimes and what the media are making up. x

  10. Really interesting read. I do believe that the emotive images released by the media are not giving is the full picture. I also did not know that many people are using this situation as an opportunity to migrate. Thanks for educating me further. #brilliantblogposts

  11. It is a really difficult and heart-wrenching stuation. I have no idea what the solution is, all I knwo is that I have to help however I can. Mich x

  12. Great post Kate. I find the situation in Syria so upsetting although I'm not sure what I can do personally to help other than donate x

  13. We have been discussing daily the situation in Europe in our household and I have reached the conclusion that the Syrian crisis and the huge wave of refugees will, whether we like it or not, change, once again, the face of Europe. This is unprecedented in modern history but not much so if we look at the history of Europe. Migration and refugees have always existed, from its very beginning. Europe is a very tight-knitted continent which will see this happening time and time again. Hopefully, not at this scale. And yes, we all need to talk AND act on it, in my humble opinion.xx


Many thanks for taking the time to comment, I really value your responses.

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