Syrian Refugee Crisis: Worst Humanitarian Disaster of Our Era?

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Article by: Matt Osche

As the conflict in Syria escalates further, not only is Syria on the brink of collapse, but many European and Middle Eastern countries are forced to bear their share of the strife as millions of refugees flood across their borders. With the possible onset of what Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has deemed a “new Cold War”, tensions in Europe are stronger than ever. One of the most pressing problems is how to deal with the now almost 5-year-old civil war where forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fight against the rebels who oppose Assad’s power, a fair amount of whom are Islamic State of Iraq & Levant (ISIS) militants.

On Feb. 16, 2016, at the annual Munich Security Conference, an event comprised of European leaders and diplomats, Russia claimed (counter to the wishes of the rest of the leaders at the conference) that it will not cease to perform its devastating airstrikes in support of Syrian revolutionaries. This action by the Russian state has prolonged the effort to form a sufficient solution amongst European powers over how best to deal with the war in Syria that is beginning to have a significant effect on the world surrounding it. Russia has also doubted the conference’s proposition for  a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria, which essentially would be an agreement to exert all possible efforts to end the civil war.

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Syrian boys, whose family fled their home in Idlib, walk to their tent, at a camp for displaced Syrians, in the village of Atmeh, Syria. Image Credit: Freedom House

These most recent discrepancies and heated debates have only intensified the already existing disagreements among European powers over how to approach the situation in Syria. Of the existing dilemmas, the issue that perhaps takes the greatest amount of precedence is one that has already directly affected Europe the most, and still continues to affect Europe today: the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

Europe has become a hub for immigration in recent years, as an immense number of foreigners seeking better lives have fled to places like France and Germany for their high standards of living. The promising livelihoods of the European countries have attracted thousands of immigrants from places such as Moldova, Morocco and India.With the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, a multitude of Syrian citizens have fled to these nations seeking refuge from the rampant violence and destruction taking place in their home.  

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Staff with the Danish Refugee Council, DRC, distribute non-food items to newly-arrived Syrian refugees in Kilis, SE Turkey. Image Credit:European Commission DG ECHO-Caroline Gluck

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, stated in 2013 that citizen displacement in Syria is “the worst humanitarian disaster of our era.” The United Nations declared in June of 2014 that over 3 million Syrians had been displaced, 73% of whom are women and children. Of the 400,000 who have so far found their way into Europe, the majority are located in Germany, Hungary and Sweden. These countries have relatively high limits on refugee intake compared to most of their European counterparts, a fact that has made German Chancellor Angela Merkel frustrated with Germany’s neighbors. Merkel appears to be  one of the only leaders actively searching for an even distribution of the refugees across Europe. Much to the chagrin of the German chancellor, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls  reiterated at the Munich Security Conference that France will take no more refugees than the 30,000 that have already entered Paris. In addition, Valls’ vetoed Merkel’s plans for a permanent agreement of even refugee distribution, disappointing the chancellor even further, as she has stated that Valls’ support plays a key role in gaining the support of Turkey for the plan. Dwindling support for Merkel is also evident through the statements of other leaders such as Polish President Andrzej Duda, who claims that current Russian aggression in Syria is a greater concern than the refugee crisis.

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Syrian refugees forced to sleep outside in Turkey after fleeing from their Homeland. Image Credit: Michael Davis-Burchat

Merkel’s frustration and concern about the growing crisis is validated by the clearly uneven distribution of the refugees throughout Europe. Germany currently has received approximately 218,186 asylum applications, whereas places like Italy and Poland have processed a mere 2,451 and 757 respectively. Even places hardly close to the size of Italy or Poland have processed larger numbers of asylum seekers, such as Serbia, who has so far accepted 313,035 asylum applications.

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His Highness Sheikh Sabah IV Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah of Kuwait arrives at the Supporting Syria and the Region conference in London, England. Image Credit: Adam Brown/Crown Copyright

As the war in Syria rages on and the outflow of Syrian refugees only grows larger, tensions will continue to grow as certain European nations get closer and closer to their refugee intake limit. Unless other leaders of Europe open their borders a little wider (an act that is unlikely to happen based off of the outcome of the most recent Munich Security Conference) it remains doubtful that the Syrian Refugee crisis will be solved any time soon, forcing countries like Germany and Serbia to bear the brunt of the struggle.

 

Feature Image Credit: Bengin Ahmad

 

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