As violence in Syria has continued to escalate over the last several months, the European Union’s reaction has been disappointing, to say the least. Desperate to keep refugees outside their countries, EU states like Germany, Austria, and Croatia have focused almost solely on border controls to keep refugees out, throwing money at countries like Lebanon and Jordan in the hope that that will solve the problem.
But the latest EU move to “deal” with refugees coming from Syria and other places in the region takes the cake. NATO is sending out ships to the Aegean Sea to ensure that those risking their lives to make the perilous boat journey from Turkey to Greece and Italy are intercepted and sent back to Turkey. Greece and Italy are seen as gateway entry points for refugees to the rest of the EU, and God forbid that should happen.
What’s even worse, though, is Turkey’s reaction to this development: President Erdogan is threatening to pack up the Syrian refugees onto buses and send them to Greece and Bulgaria.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are now at a point where European leaders are basically arguing over who doesn’t get to deal with the refugee crisis.
Aside from how unbelievably inappropriate it is to wield refugees, human beings who have experienced the worst violence and have been forcibly uprooted from their homes and lives, as some kind of bizarre bargaining chip with which to twist the arms of your uncooperative neighbors, the entire situation just highlights how utterly useless the EU (and the United Nations, for that matter) have been at handling this issue.
Instead of tackling the problem pragmatically and in a way that recognizes the humanity of the people desperate to save themselves and their families, EU leaders have pandered to the worst xenophobic instincts of their populations. We’ve seen this right here in the United States – 31 governors have said that Syrian refugees are not welcome in their states.
Yes, dealing with a huge, unexpected influx of people, especially on the level we’re seeing coming from Syria and other war-torn places in the Middle East and beyond, costs a lot in time, money, and resources. Turkey, to it’s credit, has taken in three million refugees, compared to about one million who have made their way into Europe. But the conversation surrounding refugees in the EU and the Western world more generally is beyond problematic.
Refugees are not a burden. They are not here to suck on the welfare teat of Europe. They are not pretending to be fleeing persecution when really they just want to see the sights. Refugees are human beings who have been through hell and back. They have witnessed violence and brutality that most of us cannot even begin to imagine. More than likely, they’ve experienced that violence firsthand. Many who seek asylum have been directly threatened with death or worse, simply because they are the wrong religion or the wrong ethnicity or because they failed to pronounce their loyalty to groups like ISIS.
Put yourselves in their shoes. How bad would things have to be for you to risk your life and the lives of your children and family on a rickety boat in the middle of the ocean just to get from where you are to anywhere else? For you to trade your house for a tent your share with dozens of other people, where there’s barely enough food and clothes to go around? How bad would things have to get, before uncertain death by leaving trumps certain death by staying?
That is what refugees are facing. They are not here because they want to be here. They are not using the conflict in Syria as an excuse to get that green card they always wanted. They are here because it’s either that or dying. So before we open our mouths to talk about the very real difficulties that go with accommodating so many people in such a short amount of time, let’s take a moment to put ourselves in their shoes, remember that they are human beings just like us, and consider just how lucky we are to not be in their place.