According to Nasar Khader of The Hudson Institute the challenges Europe’s borders currently face are serious. However, they were also inevitable and predictable. After all, the international community – including Europe – has been far too inactive regarding the root of the current refugee problems: Syria, with Bashar al-Assad still in charge. As long as Assad and ISIS are not dealt with, Europe’s borders will continue to be put under tremendous pressure.
Symptom treatment. That is the shortest, most accurate label I can put on the current situation in Europe. Symptom treatment. That is essentially what we do. Unfortunately, attention recently has shifted much more towards what is going on in Europe – and not the actual reason for the massive amount of people wanting to enter Europe. Assad. ISIS. Poor neighbouring countries like Lebanon and Jordan that are naturally not capable of housing millions of Syrian refugees. Not to mention the seven million internally displaced Syrians still inside the Syrian borders. Those are all reasons for Europe’s current situation. If we do not start to discuss immediate solutions to stop Assad and ISIS’ acts of terror, Europe will only continue to meet thousands – if not millions – of refugees knocking on its doors.
Is the Syrian crisis an international issue?
I find it difficult to understand how the Syrian crisis has become a European issue these days. It is not. It is an international problem. Those call for international solutions, which Europe naturally should be a part of, but should not be alone with.
The Gulf countries are crucial in this context. Saudi-Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates are just a few examples of countries taking none or very few Syrian refugees. Surely these nations have a better financial ability to host a substantial amount of the refugees compared to e.g. Jordan and Lebanon. The fact that the Gulf countries are doing absolutely nothing is a scandal. Had they lived up to their responsibilities, the pressure on Europe would be significantly different right now.
Japan and the U.S. are not much better. Japan for instance has only taken a handful of the Syrian refugees. Figures like that prove with all certainty that many regions of the world are not taking appropriate leadership and responsibility in this extraordinary crisis.
Are refugee camps in neighbour countries able to cope with the vast amounts of immigrants?
There are numerous reasons why European borders are currently under pressure. One of the main ones is to be found in the refugee camps in neighbouring countries to Syria, primarily Jordan and Lebanon. These popped up rapidly when Syria started to collapse many years ago. Now the camps simply cannot cope anymore. They do not have the necessary financial support from the international community to meet simple, basic needs: food, clean water, shelter.
As a result, many Syrian and Iraqi refugees in these camps feel there is no other choice than to flee from these malfunctioning refugee camps. Europe is then one of the fleeing destinations.
A key to solving this European crisis is providing adequate help and support in these refugee camps in e.g. Jordan and Lebanon. Interestingly, almost all European leaders and politicians express that an increased help in the region around Syria is of absolute necessity. I agree. However, the fact that these refugee camps are nowhere near having the needed funding to provide food, medicine and shelter for all, proves that reality is far from the proposed intentions. This is a humanitarian crisis of a disastrous scale. It should not be a question or not whether these refugee camps should have the minimum required funding or not – they should. The fact that they do not is embarrassing.
The Syrian civilian population is simply being let down. By Europe. By UN. By the international community.
Who is responsible to care for the Syrian refugees?
Leaders throughout history have claimed that with democracy comes responsibility to help those that are not as privileged. That is true. Also, it is highly applicable to the current situation in Europe.
I do not question whether the current flow of people crossing European borders is a challenge or not. It is. However, I question the perception and magnitude of it. Europe – the most privileged continent in the world – is currently trying to handle 160,000 refugees trying to get in. On the other hand, Lebanon is hosting 1.1 million Syrian refugees – and keep in mind that Lebanon is a poor country consisting of 4.5 million people. Jordan is likewise a poor country, and they are hosting around 650,000 Syrian refugees in its country with a population of approximately eight million people. These figures are important. Because if we do not see that the 160,000 refugees Europe are trying to accommodate is somewhat of a drop in the ocean, we fail to realize the much larger humanitarian crisis inside and around Syria.
Furthermore, Europe and the rest of the international community seem to fail to understand that it is only the ‘richest’ of the Syrian refugees that have had the chance to flee to Europe. A vast majority is stuck either inside Syria or in poor neighbouring countries. These people have a harder time being heard in international media and politics – but that does not mean their voice should not be heard. In fact, it should be the loudest. These people face the brutality of Assad and ISIS every single day.
Does Putin and Russia have a role in the crisis?
It should not take long hours of research to realize that Russian president Vladimir Putin is far from innocent to this entire crisis. Recent years with Russian violations of international conventions in regards to the situation in Ukraine have once again shown that Russia simply is not a democracy. Before taking on Crimea, Putin argued that he ‘protected the Russian minority in the region’. Hitler used the exact same kind of argumentation, and Putin’s obvious lust for power is quite frankly intimidating. However, the world cannot afford being intimidated by Putin.
Russia and Putin supply Assad with weapons in Syria. That is a fact. Let us not forget that it is well documented that Assad has been, and still is, using various weaponry on his very own population – including horrific chemical weapons. We – the free world – simply cannot keep letting Putin support this explicitly and implicitly. There is certainly a degree of passivity from the West due to the current complex and difficult relations to Russia – and the Syrian civilian population is paying the ultimate price for that at the moment.
Many sources likewise claim that Putin is highly interested in creating and supporting chaos in Europe and the EU. He sees this as an opportunity. An opportunity as a leader, and an opportunity to reset Russia as the most dominant power centre of the world. Similarly, the chaos in Europe could potentially trigger a further military campaign in context to Crimea.
Unfortunately, Europe and the U.S. have not been handling the entire crisis in Syria (and Crimea) with needed foreign policy power, and Putin has swooped in as a much more powerful player than before. This is just one more reason why Europe – and the U.S. – needs to take off their gloves now.
What are possible solutions to Syria?
In 1988, Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, used aerial chemical weapons towards Kurdish areas. Thousands were killed. No-fly zones were created by the international community, which stopped this madness. We should learn from history and establish such no-fly zones over Syria again. If we had the political will, such zones could easily be established. Again, this is in everyone’s interest – fewer would be forced to flee to Europe for example.
No-fly zones are only a part of the solution though. Safe humanitarian corridors should likewise be established. This would be of tremendous help to some of the very weakest Syrian civilians, who are unable to flee from Assad and ISIS inside Syria’s border right now. The urgency of these safe humanitarian corridors is crucial to express – because the biggest challenge right now is the humanitarian aspect. Assad is literally conducting genocide and we have all seen the brutality that ISIS is equipped with. We need to keep the Syrian civilian population safe from this. It is our responsibility. If we fail to do this, history will judge us very harshly – and rightfully so.
A part of the solution to the humanitarian crisis is also creating safe-zones inside Syria. It has been proposed to create safe zones from the Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian border and then some miles into Syria. This is a great idea. It would likewise give many civilians the opportunity to stay instead of having to flee – e.g. to Europe. Crucially for this to happen is the international community’s willingness and ability to put boots on the ground to protect these safe zones. Otherwise, they will have no effect.
So far there has been a great deal of discomfort associated with the thought of setting in ‘boots in the ground’. This is concerning, because it is naïve to believe the crisis in Syria will be solved without boots on the ground. Both Assad and ISIS are simply too strong. It does not matter if these boots on the ground are European, American, Arab, etc. – as long as they are there.
Have we learned anything from history?
It can be difficult not to reflect back on the terrible crises in Darfur and Rwanda when looking at the current situation in Syria. They are all absolutely horrific humanitarian crises, where millions of innocent people suffered on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis. With the lack of sufficient intervention in Syria right now, it can be questioned whether we have really learned from history.
However, we actually did learn from history. In Kosovo, the international community stepped in. What stops us now?
More importantly: if we do not intervene right now, the future problems will only increase in size and magnitude. The current pressure on European borders will be a drop in the ocean compared to coming years, if Assad remains in charge and ISIS is allowed to continue its killing spree.
What about migrants who are taking advantage of this crisis?
It is difficult to assess how many, but a part of the people knocking on European borders right now are illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, some try and take advantage of the chaos currently present at numerous European borders.
With recent reports that several European countries are enforcing physical barriers and check points on its borders, some refugees – but also immigrants – have the impression that right now is their last chance of getting into Europe.
Are Syrian civilians paying the price for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Few really talk about it. However, there is no doubt that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have made the West afraid of another military intervention. Simply because those wars have not been successful in many aspects. It is a pity that Syrian civilians, who are desperately in need of safety from their own government and extremists, pay the price for the mistakes that have been made in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Barack Obama is the perfect example of this. He was elected as the President who brought home troops – not one that sent them. Not even the extraordinary situation that Syria has developed into has been able to convince Obama that he is forced to change this perception of his presidency. He appears to be much more focused on his legacy, than focusing on initiating needed actions to protect millions of innocent civilians affected by the Syrian crisis. Surely, Obama and the rest of the free world face tough choices relating to Syria, but if you are the president of the United States, you are also obliged to make the tough calls sometimes. Even if it means international boots on the ground. Obama has failed to live up to his responsibilities in this case, which regrettably has strengthened Assad’s, ISIS’, and Putin’s positions.
What is the solution to the European crisis?
No matter what your take is on the current pressure on European borders, it cannot be argued that the root of the problem is in Syria. Assad. ISIS. These should be dealt with right now with a firm hand – also in order to decrease the number of people trying to flee to Europe.
First and foremost, we have a responsibility to ensure the safety of millions of Syrians currently fleeing from Assad’s bombs and ISIS’ extremism. Both within and outside Syria’s borders.
We cannot afford history looking back at us discussing the ‘pressure’ of 160,000 on Europe, when more than 12 million Syrians in total have been displaced – most of them inside or just outside Syria’s borders.
Assad needs to be replaced as soon as possible. ISIS needs to be eliminated as soon as possible. To make that happen, the international community needs to step in – with boots on the ground – in Syria. Otherwise, refugees will continue their journey towards survival, to e.g. Europe. The current symptom treatment does not solve anything.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official policies of The Mackenzie Institute.