Refugee tragedy: Just the beginning

Refugee tragedy: Just the beginning

Pictures of the dead body of a small boy swept to Turkey’s Aegean cost on the morning of Sept. 2 shattered the hearts of millions in the country.

The boy was among 12 bodies washed onto the shore in the resort district of Bodrum. The authorities think they were a group of Syrian refugees trying to reach the nearby island of Kos in Greece, on route to richer European countries such as Germany.

The boy and his family were not able to make it to Greece. Even if they had done, their painful journey to save themselves from the four-year-long civil war in Syria would have been far from over. Knowing that refugees have no intention of staying in Greece, the Greek authorities do very little to halt them on their journey further west and north.

The refugees suffer huge troubles at the Serbian, Hungarian, and Austrian borders. After a short period of denial, the German authorities recently acknowledged the scale of the crisis and assumed responsibility. But still some in Germany are far from understanding the real dimensions of the issue. For example, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has suggested that the EU should set up refugee camps in Turkey.

Turkey is a country that already hosts nearly 2 million refugees from neighboring Syria, while for weeks rich European countries have been pondering whether to take tens of thousands. Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to correct this approach by praising what Turkey has done for Syrian refugees so far and asking for more cooperation; in the end, she is talking about an EU candidate country that she does not want to see as a full member. 

Syrian refugee camps in Turkey have been praised as the “best practice” in the world by Helen Clark, the head of the UNDP.  

But the issue is not only about Turkey and it is not only about Syria. According to a recent U.S. report, Turkey is a major route for the refugee flood to Europe - not only from Syria, but also from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Yemen and Somalia. There has even developed a black market providing fake Syrian passports to refugees from other countries, because European doors are more open to Syrians nowadays.

The flood is not only submerging Turkey. Italy and Spain are also major crossing points to the European continent from Africa. From Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Chad and elsewhere people are fleeing from civil wars, terrorism by radical groups, intolerance, unemployment, hunger and everything that they are fed up with, hoping to start a new life in places where they think jobs, justice and tolerance are. What they see is Europe, separated from their desperation by only a few miles of Mediterranean Sea. News about sunken boats, rejected refugees, and the disappointment they may find in Europe does not deter them. Anything is better than what they have left behind.

This is just beginning. Measures like setting up camps just outside the EU zone will not come closer to providing a solution to the problem - especially the problem of civil wars and terrorism and all related economic problems that shake countries like Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere. 

If Europe does not want to face the consequences of the crisis, sometimes when it’s too late, it has a responsibility to contribute to finding a solution to the political problems at their source.