Horrifying images of a three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a beach made headlines in 2015. Alan Kurdi, a refugee, had drowned while trying to escape to Greece along with his father. The family’s eventual destination was supposed to be Canada. Alan was as much a victim of circumstance as of inaction. Outraged over these images, people from around world called for action. Sadly, no action really followed.
Alan had drowned on the 2nd of September 2015. However, even a year later, the UN Summit on Refugee crisis could not come to an agreement or come up with a solution. Instead, the only tangible goal of resettling at least 10% of the refugees was scrapped! No outrage followed because little media coverage was given to the summit. It raised a serious question in my mind: must another Alan lose his life before the world takes action?
Of course, there are practical problems with resettling millions of refugees. Taking in too many refugees could mean modifying the social fabric of a nation. A major change in demographics could lead to cultural conflicts. The world is already seeing this play out in Turkey, where over 2 million Syrian refugees (mainly Kurds) resettled and are now trying to create a separatist movement and carve out a new country. Also, cultural conflicts are playing out in Germany creating major problems for the current German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.
However, those problems only really arise after an overwhelming influx of refugees and mismanagement by policy makers. In other words, it does not happen when 500 or 1000 families are resettled somewhere. It’s important to point out that there are successful examples of refugee resettlement as well- for example, Canada. The country took action after it was made public that Alan and his family were trying to seek refuge there. It became a major electoral issue in Canada’s national elections and the new government was ushered in on promises of helping Syrian refugees.
We must also observe some practical solutions to the refugee crisis that have emerged from the Canadian refugee program. The country has resettled and will continue to resettle thousands of Syrian refugees. However, it will not be facing a social crisis or a change in demographics. This is because refugees are mainly settled in previously uninhabited or sparsely populated areas. In essence, they are given refuge, but unlike what happened in Germany, they are not intermingled with the population. So, the local population in Canada does not feel threatened by the stay and naturalization of refugees.
There are other solutions as well, which have been proposed repeatedly by Amnesty International. One such solution calls for shared responsibility. Currently, a majority of refugees are living in low-income countries. This is because all countries have not equally shared the responsibility of taking in refugees. So, instead of having to resettle a couple of thousand people, these low-income countries have had to take in millions of refugees. This has caused extreme hardship for the refugees and a dilemma for the host countries.
The major source countries of refugees are Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia. The major host countries for refugees are Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Clearly, neighboring countries are expected to take on all of the responsibility. Even though in many cases, they are neither the participants in the wars that created the crisis nor are they equipped to handle such a huge number of refugees.
Usually, the more developed neighbors manage to simply close their gates to refugees, forcing only a handful of countries to take on the burden. Amnesty’s solution of shared responsibility simply states that all neighboring countries and all participants of war should take on equal responsibility. In fact, one specific Amnesty article titled, “Tackling The Global Refugee Crisis”, calls for richer countries to contribute more resources so as to tackle the problem.
Beyond shared responsibility, something which was successfully witnessed for issues such as climate change, there is also a need for contributing financial resources. Refugees are people with no citizenships and no identities. Their children have no education and no access to healthcare. Even if countries do not agree to take in refugees, they should at least contribute monetarily. And to ensure that the money reaches the refugees, a system of transparency and accountability should be created.
While there is no definite solution to the global refugee crisis and the issue is quite complex, there are successful examples of managing it. If the world can take on this issue with as much urgency as it took on climate change, we would definitely see the situation become normal. The world was outraged by the photos of Alan. However, there are many Alan’s trying to cross the Mediterranean every day, whose photos we never see but whose pain we can experience. Let us come together and solve this crisis so that history, at least in this case, does not repeat itself.