Europe must do more to tackle its humanitarian crisis
The plight of the Syrian refugees is not a new matter. However, it is also not an issue that we should get used to in our daily lives. The planet’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II is happening and we should avoid losing our awareness of the matter and do our utmost to make it apparent to those who keep silent, who remain blind and who play deaf.
Last week, at least 19 refugees drowned and up to 30 are still missing after their boat sank in the Mediterranean north of Cyprus. The boat was carrying 150 people, including children, and more than 100 were rescued in a joint operation by Turkish Cypriot and Turkish coast guards.
Their story is just one example of the tragedy that millions of Syrians have faced when beginning their “journey of dashed hopes.” The ever-worsening conflict in their country is causing an increasing number of people to flee to neighboring states and Europe. The International Organization for Migration calling the Mediterranean “by far the world’s deadliest border,” as more than 33,000 refugees have died while trying to enter Europe since 2000. According to the organization’s data, more than 15,000 died in the four years to October 2017. The painful table about the number of refugees who have lost their lives in the past few years includes the following: In 2017 it was more than 3,000, while in 2016 more than 5,000 died, as well as more than 3,500 the year before.
The year 2015 was when the world was confronted with the painful images of three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi, who drowned while trying to reach safety off the coast of Turkey. The images rapidly circulated through the global and social media, with “keyboard heroes” trying to show awareness and sensitivity of the matter with hashtags that only occupied 24 hours of our lives. A year later — and after many more deaths that did not produce such an outpouring of emotion — the EU and Turkey, which hosts the world’s largest Syrian refugee community of more than 3.5 million, signed an agreement over the refugee issue. The two sides agreed to return migrants to Turkey in exchange for receiving Syrian refugees who had settled there. The EU also pledged €6 billion ($7 billion) in funding for the Turkey-based refugees.
The EU should consider repairing its ties with Turkey, particularly after the latter entered a new era with the recent elections.
This controversial agreement has been running for two years, but there are still issues emanating from the European side. Leaving aside the technical issues, there is a deep perception problem in Europe regarding the matter. It would be wrong to say that Europe is suffering from a migration crisis: It is actually suffering from a humanitarian crisis. If only EU leaders could stop seeing the migrants as numbers, but as humans, then things might not have reached this point. Just a change of perception could be the start of a possible resolution to one of the greatest crises the world has faced in recent decades. Ignoring those who drown in the sea, keeping silent and closing your ears to those who are bombed daily in their homes; one day that crisis will knock on your door. Today, this is exactly what is happening in Europe.
The EU should consider repairing its ties with Turkey, particularly after the latter entered a new era with the recent elections. Turkey is the sole reliable partner regarding this matter. Since the most challenging issue for the EU is migration, the plight of the Syrian refugees and the migrant agreement should be one of the top priorities in talks between officials from Ankara and Brussels.
While this is what is happening on one side of the Mediterranean, on the other we see another painful story of the plight of refugees. Syrians fleeing fighting in the country’s south have been turned away from the occupied Golan Heights border area by Israel. Those people who even consider fleeing to Israel as a safe haven were waving white cloths in an apparent request for help or refuge. However, women and children were turned back to their makeshift camps. Israel has reiterated that its borders will remain closed to refugees, despite calls from both trapped Syrians and the international community to reassess. It is really hard to understand that Syrians were turned back by those who were the victims of World War II.
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East.