The Syrian Refugee Crisis – are we doing enough?

According to the UN, there are now 3,988,897 total persons of concern who have fled the conflict in Syria. 

Elizabeth Kendal writes: After four years of war, Syria is little more than a patchwork of sub-state entities protected by militias. 

Syria might exist in theory, but not in reality, and the war in Syria is about to move to a whole new level at a time when borders have closed and getting out of Syria has become virtually impossible.

The conflict in Syria seems to have reason to escalate: Turkey and Saudi Arabia are planning a military alliance – comprising Turkish ground-troops and Saudi air-cover – to assist the jihadists – whom they refer to as ‘Syrian opposition’. 

The conflict is steadily getting worse, people find their families in increasing danger, and they are determined to flee this powder-keg situation. 

But, where are they going? 

By what means are they getting there? 

In desperation, are these vulnerable people further victimised by the smuggling trade? 

Statistics claim – yes. 

In a Guardian interview, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of migrants François Crépeau said Europe was creating a market for people smugglers by failing to act on Syria. 

Italy has recently pressed the EU to devise concrete, robust steps to stop the tide of migrants on smugglers’ boats, including setting up refugee camps in countries bordering Libya.

This is a wonderful short term initiative, but it does not relieve the long term suffering of these vulnerable persons, who are also targeted by violence, rape and insecurity in these refugee camps. 

Another problem with these short term refugee camps, is that ISIS are currently blocking any aid from getting to the families in need. People are therefore starving and dying of thirst. 

In the last year, Italy has saved 200,000 migrant lives at sea. Matteo Renzi, the Italian Prime Minister has said that his country’s “noble, generous reaction alone isn’t enough”, calling on the EU to help combat “21st-century slave drivers” of migrants.

The Italian Defence Minister, Roberta Pinotti, also said human traffickers must be targeted with military intervention.

Migrant shipwrecks in the Mediterranean have claimed more than 1,750 lives this year – 30 times more than in the same period in 2014.

The UN special rapporteur on the rights of migrants François Crépeau has an answer for us. 

He has suggested that wealthy countries should agree on a comprehensive plan to take 1 million refugees from Syria over the next five years to end the unfolding series of boat disasters in the Mediterranean, the UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants has urged.

“We could collectively offer to resettle 1 million Syrians over the next five years. For a country like the UK, this would probably be around 14,000 Syrians a year for five years. For Canada, it would mean less than 9,000 a year for five years – a drop in the bucket. For Australia, it would probably be less than 5,000 per year for five years.

“We can manage that.” He says. 

The plan could allow Syrian refugees to apply from places such as Istanbul, Amman and Beirut to come to Europe, North America and Australia “for a meaningful chance to resettle, instead of paying thousands of euros to only die with their children in the Mediterranean”.

Migrants trying to reach Greece are rescued off the island of Rhodes on 20 April. Photograph: Eurokinissi/Reuters

The reality of displaced persons due to conflict, economic migration and even environmental disasters will continue to rise. 

We require a global, cooperative, robust, thorough and timely response. 

Five Recommendations could include: 

  1. Ensuring aid is sent through secure channels and does not fall into the hands of rebels, but gets to vulnerable families directly; 
  2. An increase in humanitarian aid for each State capable of taking in higher numbers, including Australia; 
  3. Consider the Canadian model of Sponsorship for vulnerable families; 
  4. Greater international cooperation to eradicate people smugglers criminal trade, who steal money from vulnerable families, and place people in physical danger while being smuggled; and 
  5. Greater international support and funding to the UNHCR processing of refugees, so that we ensure that we are not forcing vulnerable people to take risky alternatives. 

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