Why should we care about Syria?

Syrian and Iraqi refugees arrive by boats at Skala Sykamias Lesvos, Greece.

When a war-torn country lies thousands of miles away from us, it makes it too easy to alienate ourselves from real humanitarian issues caused by such wars. However, in an increasingly globalised world, remaining aware of these large-scale problems becomes of global urgency. 

Plastered over the news during 2015, the Syrian Refugee Crisis has almost been pushed aside as tensions rise between North Korea and the US, and Brexit forges ahead. Yet, dotted around Europe and the Middle East, there are refugee camps. 7 million Syrians have been displaced as a result of the ongoing civil war – a choice they made for survival, not a lifestyle change. The majority have sought refuge in neighbouring countries such as Jordan in the Zaatari camp, home to almost 100,000 refugees. Nonetheless, these refugee camps are often rudimentary and lack necessary facilities, especially for the 1.6 million school-aged children.

It is easy to think such refugees have found safety and shelter in these neighbouring countries, but when camps such as Zaatari are so expansive, it places heavy strain on the home country and ultimately leads to social segregation. Here in the UK, we constantly face the question of whether we should let more migrants into the country – a question all too relevant with the Brexit debate. Theresa May’s government has decided no. I remain hopeful that we are yet to become a nation which only seeks to isolate itself from continental Europe. In this increasingly globalised and connected world, we are only becoming ever more distant.

Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan.

We should care about the Refugee Crisis and refugee camps. When tensions run high across the Pacific and disaster strikes in the Caribbean, it requires a collective effort to prevent escalation and provide disaster relief. The UK government has had the opportunity to ease the strain placed on countries around Syria by accepting some of the refugees – it has chosen not to. Yet, in the aftermath of hurricane Irma our government hasted to provide relief. Maybe this is just because we have overseas territory? If so, it only serves to bolster the negative image we continue to paint of ourselves.

Germany has shown itself to be a true leader on this front, by accepting over 350,000 refugees. Arguments for our lack of action range from: “the UK just doesn’t have the infrastructure” to “they are just coming for our jobs”, except these are not arguments, but excuses. As a ‘world leading economy’, the UK has plenty more infrastructure than the countries currently welcoming masses of refugees. So, just as we provide relief for countries devastated by Irma, why can’t we then provide a home for our fair share of refugees? Truthfully, it is because as a collective nation, we don’t care. I would forgive anyone who argued that Brexit and domestic issues such as the underfunding of the NHS were more important. But, there is a difference between something being of less importance and not caring about it at all. Frankly, we find it easier to choose the latter.

A line of Syrian refugees crossing the border to Germany.

Conversely, when we do care, it is of the negative sense. We care about the problem of terrorism and the fear that by allowing refugees into our borders, we are letting Islamic extremists infect our lands. But this is playing into the hands of such terrorist groups. They want to scare us, increase anxiety around using public transport, stop us from going to concerts. But if the Manchester Arena Bombing showed us anything, it is the tenacity we possess in light of such events. Yet, such a proud and diverse nation of people rallies around in support of Manchester, whilst simultaneously turning its back on Syria. Why? Because Manchester was an attack on us. We don’t feel- and don’t want to feel – the consequences of the Syrian War. Nobody should condemn wanting to protect ourselves, but tarnishing 7 million refugees, fleeing for their lives with the same brush as extremists is abhorrent.

The truth is that we as a nation have to bear the consequences of the decisions made by our government regarding such crises. However, a large part of the work carried out by NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) such as Oxfam and the British Red Cross is convincing people that issues such as the refugee crisis are one’s worth caring about. Supporting such organisations does not necessarily mean you need to be donating money; a lot of change can come about from a collective change in attitude. Reducing the stigma surrounding, not only refugees, but immigrants in general, is a huge step towards removing that image we portray to the rest of Europe – the image of nationalism and ignorance towards foreign affairs. The first step is standing up and saying, ‘I care’, because it is assured that once you do, you remove the barrier for others to follow.

Just this August, another crisis has arisen in Myanmar in which ethnic cleansing has led to the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. Thus, they are forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh – a different cause, but a refugee crisis all the same. The best outcome would be a coming together of our race, uniting against our differences, whatever they may be, to prevent such crises from occurring in the first place. This however, is a utopic dream. Our best course of action is to therefore, as individuals, use our voice and form part of a larger collective movement, something which requires us to show interest in such crises and the problems faced thousands of miles away from home.

Ultimately, the Syrian Refugee Crisis a humanitarian crisis – I suggest that, maybe, we all could start by showing a little more humanity.

 

 

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