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A rather haunting video of Omran Daqneesh, a toddler who was pulled out of the rubble of a leveled building, circulated the news outlets earlier this year. The video depicted Omran being pulled out from underneath pounds of rubble by rescuers, after about an hour of digging, and being brought into a medical van to await treatment. Omran never once shed a tear. Instead, he wiped his half-bloodied face and looked at the blood; he was in complete shock. For the two hours that he spent under medical care, and afterwards, he could not express any emotion.

Omran is a little boy about as old as the war itself, who has had to face unimaginable events and daily struggles. Omran, however, is one of the “lucky” ones. The bomb that tore down his building did not kill him or his family, and the family was eventually smuggled out of Syria. Others are not always as “lucky” as Omran and his family. Many do not and cannot make it out of the country alive. Those who do face just as many hardships wherever they go, and those who stay risk every day to live in the nation that was once their home.

The Syrian civil war broke out in March, 2011 and, since its inception, has brought about pain and suffering for the innocent people caught in its crosshairs. Recent statistics estimate that since the war started, approximately 470,000 people have perished. Life expectancy has fallen 14 years, from an estimated 70 years before the war to the current 56 years, and civilians are subject to suffering from all fronts: the Assad regime, government militias, Russian airstrikes, ISIS, armed opposition groups, and the anti-ISIL coalition air strikes.

People are faced with bombardments of cities, artillery shelling, incendiary weapons, cluster munitions, and chemical weapons, all aimed at killing, maiming, and terrorizing them. There are also documented instances of rapes, torture, and enforced disappearances by the Syrian government and militias affiliated with the government, as well as documentation of torture and execution by opposition groups. Even attempts at subduing the enemy results in mass casualties, as the airstrikes on the part of the U.S. and its allies allegedly took the lives of unsuspecting civilians, rather than the terror groups they were aimed at.

Many, however have managed to escape. Refugees who flee face a journey that, in and of itself is likely to take their lives. The Global Migration Data Analysis Centre recorded a death/missing toll of 2,443 migrants in the Mediterranean (a path widely used to reach Northern Africa and Europe) within the period of January 2016 and May 2016. This statistic accounts for the highest death toll by region at that given period, and within the Mediterranean region itself, the Central Mediterranean is the most dangerous to cross, as GMDAC recorded an 85% death toll for migrants journeying through that area.

For example, in May of 2016, three ships sank in three consecutive days—a battered, blue-decked vessel, a flimsy craft, and a boat—with at least 700 people believed to have drowned.Such occurrences, however, are not the result of happenstance. Death along the Mediterranean route is prevalent, yet tragedies of this magnitude are the result of a trend that is magnified by the arrival of desperate people seeking true help. According to the New York Times, such numbers are generally attributed to, “the cruel paradox of the Mediterranean calendar: As summer approaches with blue skies, warm weather and tranquil waters prized by tourists, human trafficking along the North African coastline traditionally kicks into a higher gear.”

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High demands of people in need of transportation out of a certain region to another, brings about large supplies in the form of traffickers willing to put the battered population under stringent conditions for a certain price. As a result, drowning is the inevitable fate of many, especially in vessels that are less than above board, as are other consequences of smuggling. People who survive the journey are then faced with two possibilities: refugee camps in the nation they reached, or rejection.

Refugee camps are characterized by their filth, overcrowding, and limited resources. Based on current data, in the nations neighboring Syria, there is a total camp population of 492, 880 people. Refugees are often forced to live in sub-class conditions, facing legitimate problems like famine, pestilence, and more death, for egregiously long periods of time, as the system of documentation itself is overwhelmed and resources spread thin.

More prominently, however, refugees must face the issue of rejection. Nations and their peoples are increasingly becoming averse to the idea of opening their borders to numbers ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions. This is especially true in Europe.

Since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, 11 million Syrians have fled their homes. The majority of people attempting to escape the conflict have tried to find refuge on front-line states or within Syria itself. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Five years on, Syria’s conflict has spawned 4.8 million refugees in neighbouring countries, hundreds of thousands in Europe, and 6.6 million people displaced inside Syria against a pre-war population of over 20 million.”

The numbers clearly delineate between the nations/regions receiving exceedingly high numbers of displaced persons, and those receiving comparatively lower numbers. Europe is by far the lowest regionally. Data from the UNHCR shows that only slightly more than 10% of the people who fled are looking towards Europe for solace; only 1,120,432 asylum applications between April 2011 and July 2016. This is a stark contrast from the numbers in the region around Syria, where the total number of registered Syrian refugees is 4,799,677.

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The distribution of refugees and the resulting responses of nations are significant because they mark a distinct dissociation. Numbers of refugees are significantly higher within nations like Turkey and Lebanon than they are in European nations, and that stands true regionally as well. Despite this distribution, the nations and regions, with significantly less numbers of refugees at their doors are contra-logically the nations that overwhelmingly reject these people. Between Europe and the Middle East-North Africa regions, the latter has an influx of refugees greater than the former by roughly 3,679,245. The former, however, remains stringent on accepting asylum seekers.

The blanketed argument on the part of Europeans is that with the increase in refugees (in general) on their shores, there has been/will be a corresponding increase in terrorist attacks. According to Pew Research Center, “In eight of the 10 European nations surveyed, half or more believe incoming refugees increase the likelihood of terrorism in their country.” There is also a fear of an economic burden, as “Half or more in five nations say refugees will take away jobs and social benefits.

This is significant because the European nations’ fears are not truly and entirely based upon the notion that the masses of migrating people ignite an increase in terrorist attacks. Rather, their fear only manifests through this specific filter because terrorism is arguably the most prominent international issue in contemporary life, as it has been at the forefront of foreign policy and has dominated the West’s recent past. It is essentially the go-to fear factor.

The true fear of Europeans is akin more to the fear of an economic burden regarding the loss of jobs and social benefits. This is because the situation currently hounding Europe, and its subsequent response, is in some ways a forewarning for the continent. The refugees are fleeing a crisis brought upon by civil disorder and political insecurity, and arriving on the shores of the Europeans’ ordered and secure civilization. The arrival is, as a result, viewed as the lynchpin that threatens to unleash similar disorder and insecurity at home because, despite the fact that the source of disorder in Syria does not exist in Europe, the outcome of a civil strife will lead to suffering nonetheless.

The irony is that with acceptance and tolerance, paired with the needed economic social development, a new crisis will be tamed before it has the time to flare up. This is because the fear that drives the Europeans towards aversion is brought upon by a general fear of an underlying instability in their own system. The general fear in turn perpetuates their aversion, and inadvertently causes increased chaos and suffering.

 

-Louisa Saakian

Sources:

CNN:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/17/world/syria-little-boy-airstrike-victim/

New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/12/world/middleeast/death-toll-from-war-in-syria-now-470000-group-finds.html?_r=0

Civilians in Conflict:

http://civiliansinconflict.org/our-work/countries/syria/

Civilians in Conflict:

http://civiliansinconflict.org/uploads/files/publications/Syria_Post-Harm_Brief_Sept_2013.pdf

The Global Migration Data Analysis Centre:

http://iomgmdac.org/data-central-mediterranean/

New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/30/world/europe/migrants-deaths-mediterranean-libya-italy.html

United Nations High Commission for Refugees:

http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

Syrian Refugees:

http://syrianrefugees.eu

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees:

http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/press/2016/3/56e6e3249/syria-conflict-5-years-biggest-refugee-displacement-crisis-time-demands.html?query=refugee%20crisi

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees:

http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/asylum.php

Pew Research Center:

http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/07/11/europeans-fear-wave-of-refugees-will-mean-more-terrorism-fewer-jobs/

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