In recent weeks, new tragedies involving desperate refugees seeking safety in Europe grabbed the headlines. Most recently images of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy, identified as Aylan Kurdi, on a beach in Turkey brought refugee crisis into global focus, drawing public attention to a crisis that has actually been going on for years. The picture depicted a tiny body that washed ashore, lying face down on the beach. Aylan’s five-year-old brother and mother also died in the same incident fleeing Syria and attempting to cross the Aegean to reach Greece. This photograph of a lifeless child spread quickly online and prompted a widespread sympathy and demands that European nations do more in helping refugees. This wasn’t the only heart-breaking incindent. In Macedonia, tormented people encountering horrible treatment at the hands of Macedonian police, in France, scores of immigrants in a risky showdown with the police as they tried to get to England, also drew the attention of the public.
Another shocking development happened in Austria. On a seemingly normal day, an abandoned truck at the side of the road revealed a scene of indescribable horror. Inside the truck were the bodies of 71 refugees including women and four children who had suffocated to death. Those people died screaming and kicking for oxygen, perhaps only meters away from help and in a place that supposedly champions human rights no matter what. Instead they were left to die in the most horrendous way as the normal routine of life outside carried on just as usual.
It is as clear as daylight that our world is screaming for help. People cry out loud for a semblance of assistance. However, most of the time their cries fall on deaf ears because the desolate and the downtrodden in need of slightest help has to turn for help to those who have no interest in helping them. The comfortable are more concerned about preserving the status quo.
The only bright side of the recent developments has been the fact that they finally drew the attention of the world and softened the hearts of the politicians. Most particularly the martyrdom of little Aylan, opened even the most tightly shut eyes and brought upon important changes. As a result of these incidents, many European countries changed their approach to the refugee crisis and decided to increase the numbers they would accept. Although this is a good start and we hope that it will continue, it is still important to see the real numbers to better understand severity of the situation.
Since the civil war broke out in Syria five years ago, half of the total Syrian population has been displaced. Four million have sought refuge in neighboring countries. Turkey, a relatively poor country with a GDP of only $10,000 per year, welcomed a staggering 1.9 million Syrian refugees and spent some six billion US dollars. The UK, one of the top economies in the world, with a GDP of $40,000, originally welcomed187 people, but decided to increase it 20,000 until 2020 after the recent incidents. Lebanon welcomed 1.1 million Syrians with an annual GDP of only $9,144. Norway, one of the richest countries in the world with a staggering annual GDP of $100,000, accepted only 1,000 Syrians. Germany is displaying a commendable approach as Merkel said that they are expecting 800,000 asylum seekers this year. The same thing cannot be said about the USA as the world’s self-declared superpower has also accepted only about 1,000 refugees, and according to a report on Washington Post, while their total aid for Syria worked out to $3.1 million a day in 2014, they spent $10.5 million daily on the fight against ISIS.
European Parliament Group Chairman Gianni Pittella also drew attention to this outrageous situation:“The fact that Member States have failed to reach an agreement on the relocation of just 40,000 refugees after five months is ludicrous… While certain EU Member States bicker over whether to take 250 or 500 refugees, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have taken over 3.5 million. This is both a testament to these countries’ humanity and solidarity and an indictment of Europe’s lack of either. How can we still claim humanitarian leadership in the world in the face of such numbers?”
Europe is considered as the cradle of civilization. It used to be a pioneer of human rights, liberties, and promised a safe haven for everyone. But the situation today is the opposite. Instead of offering a safe shelter and a prospect of a dignified life regardless of ethnical origin, Europe stubbornly closes its eyes, shuts its ears and blocks out any calls for help from the downtrodden and destitute. Moreover, it displays a shockingly discriminatory attitude towards Muslims. Although radicalism in Islamic countries is a part of the problem, nothing can justify shutting doors to people that need help. Especially if they include women, children and the elderly as they face imminent death, torture, poverty, hunger and abuse. Therefore the real problem is the deeply entrenched lovelessness and lack of compassion. It is clear that Europe and other rich countries of the world can easily welcome and take care of all these people. They can easily set up funds to cover their needs and provide them with respectable, dignified lives. Through educational programs, they can help these people adjust to their new environments and become contributing citizens that are far from any radical tendencies. Regrettably, this is not happening and the Western world chooses to plead ignorance.
Nevertheless, the spirit of human decency and compassion still thrives in Europe, especially in the hearts of individuals. This became more evident in recent incidents where thousands Europeans rushed to the help of refugees arriving on trains and showed that they would be happy to welcome them. So it is not too late, and Europe is perfectly capable of transforming itself, as it has done many times in the past. The only thing to be done is to rise once again as a champion of human rights and liberties. The world hasn’t given up on Europe so Europe must not give up on the world either.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Morocco World News & Harakah Daily: