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Syria: What, and Why


Check out your Facebook news feed. You will see a photograph of a young boy lying face-down in the sand. There are really no words to describe the agony of the image, only a protective and primal certainty that it is so terribly wrong. I can’t begin to explain how sad it is that those in more privileged positions can brush aside their responsibility to help those in desperate need until they are confronted with a picture of a dead child on a Turkish beach.

My initial reaction to the photograph (and others like it) was pity. But, all of a sudden, I began to feel anger, and disappointment – and also confusion. What has led to this? How blind have we been? And, on a more colloquial level, how the hell did it get this bad?

What is the Syrian Refugee Crisis? The catalyst for the troubles happened in 2011, when some teenagers, practicing their freedom of expression and critising the government,  were murdered by the Ba’ath regime, led by President Bashar al-Assad. Opponents of the government protested against the killings; the regime responded with force. A brutal civil conflict was born. By 2012, fighting had reached the capital city of Damascus. What began as a civil war turned into a violent clash of beliefs between the moderate Sunni Muslims and their ideological rivals, the Shia denomination. And just to make matters even worse, enter the Islamic State, which took advantage of the situation by seizing control of parts of the country.

After rockets filled with sarin (a potent nerve agent) were fired at agricultural areas, the U.S. issued a characteristic threat of military intervention. President Assad promised to remove all of Syria’s chemical weapons (which he did). But use of this warfare has, of course, since been documented. At this point, Syria is the host of multiconflicts both political and religious. The government is allied with Russia and Iran, whereas the rebels are supported by the U.S., the U.K., France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. War crimes have been reported on both sides.

Now, prepare yourself for some numbers. By the early summer of 2013, the United Nations estimated that 90,000 people had been killed as a result of the war. That’s 1,071 double-decker buses, packed full of people. By 2014, the figure had more than doubled. Under a year later, 220,000 lives had been lost. In 2014, 6,000 casualties were civilian. And these civilian casualties weren’t just accidental – in many cases they were planned and totally deliberate. Today, 4 out of 5 Syrians live in poverty. So far, 11 million people have fled Syria, which equates to 50% of the entire population.


So, back to my initial and colloquial question – how the hell did it get this bad?

It got this bad because the collective governments of Europe have never been able to offer an appropriate response to any conflict, ever. Case in point: the Srebenica Massacre. A bloody genocide took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina under the noses of international rulership which, although likened to the Holocaust, is virtually unknown. I would guess that only a small number of people who read this article will know that it even happened. But thanks to an expanded media, there is no excuse for ignorance concerning the suffering happening within Europe today.

The next question is, how do we react? The most any of us will do is share one of the horrific pictures on social media forums. Already, a lack of any real response has meant that Islamic State has been able to gain recruits who have nowhere else to turn. We have to accept a level of responsibility for what has happened in this country, and at the very least educate ourselves about what is going on.

Last night a member of my family put it to me that the refugees piling onto a freight train were acting for the cameras. This attitude is toxic, and fails completely to understand the plight of those with no other choice. “What happens in the future,” they asked, “When we need help? They aren’t going to give it.” My reply included a plethora of unmentionable words. How can anybody justify such a lack of humility?

What really makes me sick to my stomach is the game of international blame. Unfortunately, we live under a Conservative government which refuses to take part in the offer of help and will allow others to carry the burden. British Prime Minister David Cameron believes that we should aim to “stabilise” Syria itself before addressing humanitarian crises, and this to me seems nothing but a ploy to buy time.

The British refusal to meet the quota will become yet another stain on our reputation if it isn’t quickly reversed. Cameron’s attitude towards the whole thing has been nothing short of confused. Three days ago, he undertook a hardline position, stating,

[The crisis in the Middle East] cannot be solved by simply taking more refugees.

Yesterday, most probably prompted by the outrage against his lack of compassion, the Prime Minister changed his tune and announced that Britain would accommodate a further 4,000 refugees. However, these refugees will come directly from camps in the Middle East, and not from Europe itself. As per usual, the government is all for getting involved in the eastern part of the world, but ignores problems closer to home. Cameron even mistakenly referred to the refugees as ‘migrants’, which can only stand testament to his real feeling on this issue.

At this point I sound like an incessant liberal, which is never fun. I do understand the implications of taking in even more people into a country which is already supposedly overcrowded, but this doesn’t make us exempt from a collective effort to sort out this situation.

Certain countries are breaking free from the awful convention of handing over responsibility. Not only are Germany going to meet the required quota, they are going to exceed it. Norway has also announced plans to double its initial intake. In doing this, these governments have given more than provisional numbers, they have given hope. For many of the victims fleeing their homes, hope is all they have. The least we can do is try to put ourselves in their position. That might be hard, but this video might help. (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RBQ-IoHfimQ)

Sadly, some people feel indifferent to what is happening across the channel, and they are content with that. They will forget what it means to be part of the human race because they’re worried about the economic implications of population increase, or simply not bothered at all. I hope that they can open their eyes. If we keep turning our backs on these sorts of situations, they will only happen again. In my view it is unacceptable to force the refugees to remain in limbo whilst their country is in such disarray. The problems in Syria cannot be solved overnight – but in my view the refugee situation pretty well can. If we, as a country and as individuals, pursue isolationist policies then only resentment will come of it.#
For more information about ways to get involved, visit http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/03/refugee-crisis-what-can-you-do-to-help
For a more local way to give your support, contact yorktocalais@gmail.com and visit http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/13645253.York_group_heading_to_help_refugees_in_Calais_overwhelmed_by_generosity/?ref=fbshr