Europe and the Syrian Refugee Crisis Creative Commons

There is no guidebook on how to be a refugee. ‘Asylum Seeking for Dummies’ has not been written and there is no user-friendly, multi-lingual book of rights provided to you when you flee your country to save your life.

For those in Syria, as the stories of chemical warfare emerge for international consideration, the truth is that millions of people are under severe threat every single day. Unwilling to risk their lives for a war they did not make, civilians are leaving Syria in thousands every day, leaving everything behind except what they can carry in those frantic moments of flight. 

There are now almost 2 million Syrian refugees who have poured out of the state to neighbouring lands with no certain timetable for return. Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq are sharing the heavy burden of sheltering them. Given the difficult situation in Egypt and the present lack of stability of its political power, is it wise that over 100,000 Syrians temporarily call it home? Similarly, Iraq remains a country notable for its own civilian asylum seekers  gone abroad to find peace and new hope. From one war torn country to another, Syrians are facing destitution, isolation, malnutrition, violence and death in refugee camps built with the best of intentions to provide sanctuary, but sorely lacking in security, support and provisions. Money and time are precious commodities, and right now, the international humanitarian system simply does not have enough of either.

The UNHCR currently operates the largest appeal in history for the Syrian Protection effort. With over $5 billion needed to bolster the support structure, and new details  of atrocities in Syria emerging every day, there are questions to be asked as to European responsibility. The United States has pledged over $800 million in aid to Syria, and will permanently resettle 2 000 refugees in America. In Germany, asylum has been granted to 8 000 refugees since 2012 and Sweden has accepted a further 8 000. But when 3 000 asylum seekers, mostly women and children, flood into Kurdistan every day across a long dirt road in the baking heat, why is Europe not doing more?

In early 2013, Ireland announced a €5 million pledge of aid to Syria, which has since been bolstered by the promise of a further €1.65 million. But with such staggering numbers of asylum seekers struggling to survive, Ireland has promised to accept a mere 30 refugees for permanent resettlement. Since 2011, 20 000 Syrian refugees have had the misfortune to land in Greece, a significant port of entry for refugees into the European Union. Greece, a country notorious for its atrocious immigration policy has imprisoned, tried or immediately deported numerous refugees. In the past few months, it is estimated that over 2 000 Syrians were detained in Greece.The reality is that the Syrian crisis is the first test of the recently lauded Common Asylum System, updated during the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The Syrian test, if we are to call it that, has so far only shown that the European asylum system remains defunct, ineffective and unjust.

Throughout history, Europe has seen its crises and gratefully accepted the help of others after World War II, the horror of the Holocaust, or the Yugoslav Wars just twenty years ago. Today, Europe hosts around 30 000 Syrian refugees - a pitifully small number compared to the 2 000 000 now seeking protection. Europe, through poor policy decisions and lack of commitment, is aiding the spread of violence in refugee camps in the Middle East. We are all playing an active role in the destruction of an entire population who are asking for nothing more than safety.

Across Europe, immigration is an ever hot debate topic. Many commentators believe that Europe should protect its borders to cement its own economic recovery. But the harsh reality is that Syrian refugees are not economic migrants - they are victims of a crisis, a war that nobody is winning. Their children have been gassed to death near their homes, but if they escape, they are more likely to be jailed in Europe than welcomed with the freedom they deserve. 

‘Asylum Seeking for Dummies’ needs to be written and then read widely by the governments of Europe who are failing abjectly in their responsibilities to a nation of people with nothing left to lose.  

Edited by: Izabella Lobinska

Photo Credits: Providing food vouchers  to Syrian refugees in Lebanon via flickr