António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said “What is at stake is nothing less than the survival and well-being of a generation of innocents.” His words powerfully sum up what is at stake as millions of refugees are fleeing Syria in hopes of finding safety and security.
The media has recently been bombarded with images of Syrian refugees fleeing Syria by boat, by foot, or any other way they can escape. Issues of migration to European countries has been receiving coverage for years now, yet in the past few months it has finally garnished much wider attention.
Disturbing images of devastated families and the countless people, including children, who have drowned while trying to gain safe passage to Europe have drawn compassion from a global audience.
Civil war in Syria broke out in 2011 following the Arab Spring protests, during which several dictatorships were overthrown. Some, however, were replaced by more malicious regimes. In Syria, dictator Bashar al-Assad refused to relinquish power and has been fighting against the uprising by torturing children and gassing his own people with chemical weapons.
Roughly 250,000 people have been mercilessly killed, 10.6 million Syrians have remained in their homes, while around 4 million Syrians have left their country in search of safety. Syrian refugees have fled to Egypt, Jordan, Greece, Turkey and other European countries.
How can the global community assist Syrian refugees and aid the growing crisis? The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has made statements urging governments “[to open] up more opportunities for people to come legally to Europe and find safety upon arrival.”
In addition to allowing refugees to legally enter Europe, as well as be resettled in the U.S., South America, and Australia, a shift in global attitudes towards the refugee crisis will allow a more compassionate and thoughtful response.
This is likely not the end of the Syrian refugee crisis, and while governments continue to persecute and kill their own people, globally we will continue to see refugee crises. As this occurs, global responses have room for wide improvement.
Global perceptions of refugees have tended to be of the “it’s not our problem” variety, with beliefs that regional crises have no global importance. Europe, for example, has a history of making it difficult for refugees to enter safely and legally, when in fact international law protects refugees; those seeking safety from persecution and death.
Recently, however, social and mainstream media have begun to illustrate a shift, as we have seen some willingness to assist refugees. Everyday people have been seen advocating that their governments allow and welcome refugees into their countries. 11,000 families from Iceland signed a petition this month, urging their government to allow refugees to come to Iceland.
Icelanders made offers to open their homes, businesses and schools to refugees and have even offered to assist with everyday basic needs. According to several news reports, one school teacher in Iceland said “I’m a single mother with a six year old son, we can take a child in need. We have clothes, a bed, toys and everything a child needs.”
Equally as encouraging, German citizens have been seen holding up signs at train stations welcoming refugees, bringing food and paying medical expenses out of their own pockets, teaching German, sharing bicycles and so on.
Last week, Syrian refugees getting off trains were greeted with unexpected hospitality by Germans and Austrians, who gave out boxes of supplies, candy, and stuffed animals for the children.
Numerous countries across the globe have begun to open discussions on accepting more refugees, or have already agreed to receive more. Venezuela has agreed to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees, while Germany is in conversation about accepting as many as 800,000 refugees this year alone. As of September 10th, President Obama has announced that the United States would raise the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S., to at least 10,000 in the fiscal year beginning in October.
With dialogue and advocacy increasing, as well as a more positive perception of refugees, there is hope that globally we will be better able to respond to future refugee crises and provide the safety and security that refugees are legally entitled to, and deserve.