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Mammoth proportion, least preparation.

Posted in View Point

Published on September 11, 2015 with No Comments

Is a picture really worth a thousand words? In the time of internet social networking perhaps certain pictures are not even good for a glance. Once in a blue moon, you come across a picture that shutters the guts out. One such picture emerged last week that had the body of the little boy, dressed in bright red t-shirt and shorts, found lying face-down in the surf on the beach near the resort town of Bodrum, 250 miles west of the city of Antalya on Turkey’s idyllic ‘Turquoise Coast’.

It was an image that captured the human tragedy. This summer more than quarter of a million people have fled across the Mediterranean by small ships and rafts. Lured by human smugglers and forced onto discarded fishing boats. The picture brought forth the mammoth of the tragedy that the migrants undergo. For those who can’t afford comparative safer passage on fishing boats, there are homemade rubber rafts. Using plywood floors often cut through the rubberised canvas to dumping the passengers into the ocean a few miles from shore. The migrants are willing to let themselves be subjected to this life-threatening journey because there is no safe way out of their quandary. They risk their lives at sea and knowing fully well that the grass may not be that green on the other side, where an uncertain future, a vague status awaits them. They’ve risked their lives to escape war in Syria. Europe is struggling to deal with the masses, who are trying to enter in tens of thousands at times more than the population of an average town. No wonder the unfortunate immigrants and the countries are finding it hard to deal with the situation. The situation throws certain baffling question too. No Syrian refugees have been resettled in Persian Gulf nations like Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, countries with significant financial and political interest in Syria. Nadim Houry, Human Rights Watch deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa has rightly called the inaction of “those wealthy countries” “shameful.”

The image brought various leaders around the world to take notice of the problem that they were aware of, but was low on their priority as most the nation facing the influx of immigrants are also facing an economic crisis and their focus was limited to that only. That image also created tremors in Canada too, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander cancelled his campaign activities following news that the family of the Syrian boy who drowned on a Turkish beach had tried without success to get to Canada.

The movement of humans from bad things to assumed better things starts in Africa and the Middle East. According to a recent data from UNHCR, 63 percent of all migrants to Europe are Syrian. The war in and around Syria has displaced close to 9 million people, with a third of those people seeking food and shelter outside of Syria. Since the war began in March 2011, only 150,000 have actually been allowed inside Europe.

The flood of migrants pouring into Europe means all European Union member states must step up to meet the mounting crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for quotas to be set for each European country to take a share of displaced people. However, it would be premature for any leader to clearly define how would the selection be made. Will the displaced be given a right to choose the country of their choice, with majority of them trying to move to France and Austria?

The situation could have been handled better if the EU had united against an earlier Italian naval policy that had held back the refugee tide. Europe would have been even better off if it had sought to use diplomacy or military action to bring the Syrian civil war to an end. But the lack of a common foreign and security policy and the EU’s general loss of strategic sensibilities have reduced Europe to a submissive bystander. EU needs to have a long term focussed plan to handle this mammoth problem.


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