Syrian Refugees: Repercussions of a Coercive Mass Migration

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Leaving one’s house is not easy, packing and shifting is very hectic. Leaving one’s country is more difficult because settling down in a new environment takes time and sometimes it fails. Nobody leaves their house unless the need is grave. Now fancy the plight of those people who are compelled to leave their houses due to excess of violence, cruelty and injustice in their homeland. But the journey is not pleasant, it is long and tiring and they are confronted with boat capsize, deaths of the loved ones, and ignorance. The suffering doesn’t end here, after reaching their destination, it intensifies. Inhospitality, over crowdedness, unsuitable living conditions, anxiety and helplessness prevail there. This is the picture of Syrian refugees trying to find shelter and escape the horrors of their country.

Syria did not come into existence long ago, it is relatively young. Its borders were shaped by European powers in the 1920s, amalgamating several ethnic and religious groups into one territory. Since late 1970, a family from one of those smaller groups -the Assad’s have ruled the country in a brutal dictatorship. Bashar al-Assad has been in power since 2000.Things appeared quite calm and stable, and then Arab Spring protests began in 2011, it turned out that things were calm only at the surface. The Sunni Arabs, who comprise of the largest Syrian population were tired of the regime’s corruption, brutality and inequity.

About 250,000 people have been killed and half of the country’s population has been displaced, with 4 million fleeing as refugees to other countries.

Moreover,ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), a militant organization which was created by Assad added to the ongoing violence and barbarity in Syria. It later swept Northern Iraq too. By 2014, Syria was divided between government, rebels, ISIS, and Kurdish forces (an ethnic minority who has long sought independence.) It is divided in a terrible stalemate.

About 250,000 people have been killed and half of the country’s population has been displaced, with 4 million fleeing as refugees to other countries. Though they have limited resources but the neighbouring countries have been more than generous to give shelter. As reported by Amnesty International, Lebanon, which has an annual per capita income of $11,000 hosts approximately 1.2 million refugees which amounts to around one in five people in the country. Jordan hosts about 650,000 refugees from Syria which is about 10% of the local population. Turkey with a per capita income of $20,000 accommodates the highest number of refugees, 1.9 million. Iraq where 3 million people have been internally displaced in the last 18 months hosts 249,463 refugees from Syria while Egypt has given shelter to 132,375 refugees.

Though Turkey has been most receptive but Syrians can’t work there legally and the funding in these countries is insufficient. The UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) is short on the funds for Syria operations. As a result many people are living in inadequate accommodations.

On the contrary, it appears that these people are not good at keeping records because according to Bloomberg, there are roughly 500,000 Syrians living in Saudi Arabia without being classified as refugees.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (KSA, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait) has received a lot of heat lately for not opening their doors for Syrian refugees. The criticism escalated even more after the picture of a drowned Syrian boy, lying on a beach of Turkey surfaced the media. Different derogatory cartoons were made on the issue, fanning the criticism. Different media groups and organizations have accused them of being mere bystanders of the crisis.

On the contrary, it appears that these people are not good at keeping records because according to Bloomberg, there are roughly 500,000 Syrians living in Saudi Arabia without being classified as refugees. The Gulf States don’t have systems in place specifically for refugees but do receive Syrian workers. There’s a de facto refugee system that works through migrant workers who get work visas and might be fleeing persecution and conflict, but are not recognized as such and are not protected as such because these countries have not signed the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention.

According to Daryl Grisgraber of Refugees International, hundreds of thousands of those Syrians are already living in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states on work visas. Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister told media that “The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the largest supporters of aid to the Syrian refugees, whether in Jordan or Lebanon and other places,” he says. “And the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a welcoming environment for Syrians.”

An official from Saudi Arabia’s ministry of foreign affairs told The Guardian that “Saudi Arabia made it a point not to deal with them as refugees but had issued residency permits to 100,000 Syrians who wished to stay in the kingdom.” The official further elaborated that “With that came the right to free education, healthcare and employment according to a royal decree in 2012 that also states that Syrian students visiting the kingdom be admitted in public schools.” Moreover, Saudi Arabia and its neighbours in 2014 joined a US-led military coalition bombing extremist Islamic State group rebels in Syria. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have also funded the rebel and Islamist factions fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

According to the United Nations, each Gulf nation has given millions of dollars to help the refugees. Saudi Arabia alone has given $18.4 million to the United Nations Syria response fund so far this year.

An unnamed UAE government source told CNN that “The UAE has received more than 100,000 Syrian nationals since the Syrian crisis began in 2011 and extended residency permits to them, bringing the number of Syrians living there to almost 250,000”. The source further informed that the UAE is also financing al Mreejab Al Fhood refugee camp in Jordan, contributing some $72 million over two years for camps elsewhere in that country and in Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political-science professor in the United Arab Emirates, argued that his country alone had taken in 160,000 Syrians in the last three years. “If it wasn’t for the Gulf States, you would expect these millions to be in a much more tragic state than they are,” he said. While replying to the ongoing criticism he said, “This finger-pointing at the Gulf that they are not doing anything, it is just not true.”

According to the United Nations, each Gulf nation has given millions of dollars to help the refugees. Saudi Arabia alone has given $18.4 million to the United Nations Syria response fund so far this year, while Kuwait has given more than $304 million, making it the world’s third-largest donor. In total, these Gulf countries have given more than $500 million over 2.5 years.

Though these Gulf countries have taken Syrian refugees but there is no proper policy from any of these countries to house refugees arriving en masse without sponsors or work permits. This is because these countries gave monetary help to the rebels to fight against Bashar Al Assad and now they are worried that if any loyalists of Assad’s regime enter their territories, they might seek revenge resulting into terrorism.

Another concern of these Arab countries is the demographic imbalance. For example, citizens in the UAE and Qatar number a little over 10% of the resident population in their respective countries. The vast majority of residents are transitory workers. Foreigners are only allowed residency if they or their spouse have full-time jobs, once their contracts are up almost all migrants return home. And if more refugees poured in, the jobs of the nationals might get endangered. So the idea of thousands of foreigners coming in, without employment or any definite return date, is deeply uncomfortable for Gulf States. Including all this, Saudi Arabia is busy fighting a war in Yemen and is watching the fall of oil prices closely.

Germany is the most welcoming European country with the largest number of requests among other European countries. Germany expects the overall asylum requests to soar above the current U.N. count of 98,700 from Syrians alone.

Many Syrian civil war victims are migrating towards the West, seeking refuge in Europe. UNHCR (UN refugee Agency), estimates that more than 366,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year. At least 2,800 have died or disappeared during the journey. Those who succeed in crossing the sea, face uncertain future in Europe. EU (European Union) countries have an open-border policy that allows the free movement of people between member states.

Germany is the most welcoming European country with the largest number of requests among other European countries. Germany expects the overall asylum requests to soar above the current U.N. count of 98,700 from Syrians alone. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel told media that there could be 800,000 applications for asylum in Germany this year, and the country could take 500,000 refugees annually for several years.

As Germany faces the largest share of Syrian requests for asylum in Europe, Chancellor Angela Merkel called for quotas to be set for each country to take a share of displaced people, including from Syria. She also said the current international treaty setting out countries’ responsibilities for taking in refugees was no longer up to date, and that neither Greece nor Italy could take in all those crossing the Mediterranean Sea in search of shelter. Some countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, are strongly opposed to any proposal for quotas, arguing they don’t have the necessary resources.

Sweden has been the second most receptive European state. It also joined Germany in demonstrating support and responsibility in the refugee crisis.”We accept that every person has a right to seek asylum,” Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Margot Wallstrom said at a press conference. “This also puts the European solidarity to a test. I think it’s important that we signal being a community that rests on common values of democracy and defense of human rights.”

The United Kingdom will likely see an increase in asylum requests because it has announced to resettle 20,000 refugees by 2020. This plan will be focused on those refugees who are living in poor conditions in different camps near Syria’s border and not those who have already entered Europe. The refugees will receive a five-year humanitarian protection visa. According to U.N. figures, Britain has been the second largest provider of humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees within the Middle East region.

The number of asylum requests received by France has been relatively low. But they will surely increase now that French President François Hollande has said France is ready to take on more responsibility and host 24,000 refugees over the next two years. The French leader said this number would be France’s share under a proposal by the European Commission for EU nations to take in 120,000 refugees over the next two years.”We will do so because it is the principle to which France is committed,” Hollande said.

With countries like these, there have been some countries with a cold response towards the issue. Denmark has received a relatively large number of Syrian asylum requests but has sought to discourage the arrival of more migrants. Few days ago, Danish authorities tried to restrict migrants from crossing into the country from central Europe. The country had also given ads in four Lebanese newspapers that Denmark has reduced its social security benefits. “We cannot simply keep up with the present flow,” Immigration and Integration Minister Inger Stojberg, a member of the right-wing Venstre Party, said on Facebook. “In light of the huge influx to Europe these days, there is good reason for us to tighten rules and get that effectively communicated.”

Similarly, Romania’s president said that it cannot accept the number of migrants proposed by European Commission, the number is way bigger than what it offered to help. Romania which initially agreed to accept some 1,785 has been asked to accept 6,351 people.

Many Syrian refugees are reluctant to register an asylum application in Hungary. They did not find the country hospitable. Having traveled north through the Balkans, those who arrived on the country’s border with Serbia had to face police investigation, they were also forced to wait, sometimes for days in holding areas and transit camps with poor conditions. Hungary’s government, which has been trying to stop the flood of migrants, has erected a barbed wire fence along its more than 160-kilometer (100-mile) border with Serbia to prevent them from crossing there. To add to all of this, 3321 refugees were detained by the police on the border with Serbia. Serbia, which has received 49,500 asylum requests from Syrian refugees, is not a member of the European Union.

Greece, which lies on a popular transit route from Turkey to Northern Europe, has received more than 250,000 people on its islands this year. In July they received 3,545 asylum applications. According to the figures quoted by different news organizations, about 20,000 are on the Greek island of Lesbos, and another 10,000 are on other Greek islands. 7000 entered Macedonia, which shares a border with Greece.

USA intends to increase its aid for Syrian civil war victims. A senior State Department official, speaking on a conference call with the reporters of Al Jazeera, said the U.S. had taken in about 70,000 refugees a year over the past three years and was planning on some sort of a modest increase particularly for Syrians next year. Since the initiation of the four-year-long Syrian civil war, the U.S. has taken in 1,500 refugees, with 300 more expected to be cleared by October. The International Rescue Committee has called on Washington to admit 65,000 Syrian refugees by 2016.

According to an article published by Toronto Sun on 3rd September, Canada has resettled more than 2,370 Syrian refugees since January 2014, and the government has promised to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over a three-year period. Since then, 1,074 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada.

John Earnest, the White House Press Secretary told the media that the White House insists that the United States is contributing to the relief effort, even if not through resettlement. Since the crisis erupted in 2011, the United States has sent $4 billion in aid to neighboring countries. On the other hand concern over the national security has been expressed by a number of law makers and state officials. The chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Tex., told The Washington Post that  “Terrorists have exploited the refugee process to sneak into our country in the past, and officials have warned my committee that we lack the on-the-ground intelligence in Syria needed to confidently vet individuals for resettlement. Before taking on any new refugee admissions, the president must provide assurances to Congress and the American people that our security screening is up to the task.”

There are other generous countries too who are willing to take in Syrian refugees. According to a report by CNN, Australia has announced to give refuge to an extra 12000 migrants fleeing conflict in the Middle East. This is more than twice the number currently allowed into the country through its humanitarian program each year. The Prime Minister Tony Abbott told that priority would go to persecuted minorities and especially women, children and families, who are in camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Australia also plans to spend $44 million on food, blankets and emergency supplies to support 240,000 people in UNHCR camps as part of its $230 million aid program. In addition to this Abbott informed that the country would be joining airstrikes against ISIS in Syria next week.

According to an article published by Toronto Sun on 3rd September, Canada has resettled more than 2,370 Syrian refugees since January 2014, and the government has promised to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over a three-year period. Since then, 1,074 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada. Even some developing countries of North Africa like Tunisia and Morocco are sheltering a meager number of Syrian refugees. Shocking but true, Brazil has resettled 1,740 Syrian refugees since 2013. Most are of them are residing around São Paulo’s main mosques in the Brás and Cambuci districts, reported by The Guardian. On the other hand, other high-income countries, specifically Russia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea have offered zero resettlements to the Syrians, says a report by Amnesty International.

Belonging to any land or community, all men have suffered in different ways since the dawn of mankind. There has not been a single group which has escaped the brutality of this world and its tenants. If misery is inevitable then why not face it together and solve it together, alleviating its intensity. The reason behind the inexorability of human agony appears to be the failure of human fraternity to function as one unit. Generosity, compassion, affection, kind-heartedness and its other synonyms are not merely the traits of a pious man but essential components of a man’s soul. The very essence of a human being’s existence lies in the possession of these characteristics.

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Zahabia is an aspiring journalist pursuing a degree in Mass Communication from the University of Karachi. She tweets @zkmotorwala and can be reached at zahabiakhuzema@gmail.com

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