Thursday 10 September 2015

Another Refugee Crisis

The latest refugee crisis has succeeded in stirring the emotions of many around the world.  The same is true for those  in Israel and Jews around the world.   The sight of the men, women and children moving across land and sea in unrelenting conditions to escape the disaster that has fallen upon them as a result of a civil war of human making, can only bring out the most heartfelt sympathies in anybody who has seen the pictures on TV and social media.  Some are calling this the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

The emotions of the Jewish community are particularly affected, because it was precisely this type of disaster that befell our ancestors 75 short years ago.  It will never be forgotten that, as a result of the world failing to mobilise to accept refugees who were running from the disaster of war and genocide in Europe, and failing to act to stop those who were carrying out the genocide, 6 million of our people were systematically annihilated.  Jewish sympathy is no less than that of others around the world, despite the fact that many of the refugees come from countries that seek the destruction of the State of Israel, and the death of the Jews.

Israel has already provided a great deal of assistance to victims of the Syrian war over the past few years, despite the fact that Syria has no diplomatic relations with Israel and despite the fact that Syria has formally been at war with Israel for the past 67 years with the intention of wiping Israel off the map.  Thousands of victims of the Syrian civil war have streamed across the border from Syria into Israel seeking medical and humanitarian assistance.  The IDF has provided first aid assistance to many of these victims via mobile medical units along the Syrian border, and supplied them with humanitarian aid.  Irrespective of which side of the conflict they have come from.  Hundreds of others have been admitted to Israeli hospitals for medical treatment, some undergoing complex life-saving surgery to nurse them back to health.  All of these services have been provided courtesy of the Israeli tax-payer, and nobody has been denied humanitarian assistance on the grounds of opposing political or religious views, or any other grounds.  This humanitarian work has been undertaken without fanfare, desire for recognition or international headlines.

But now, the the floodgates to Europe have finally opened.  Instead of seeking medical attention across the Israeli border, the eyes of the war victims have stretched further afield.  Thousands of refugees are swarming across the Mediterranean to seek shelter in the calmer waters of Europe.  European leaders have been caught somewhat off guard at the suddenness of the developing situation.  Some leaders mumble phrases about the Shengen Agreement and the Dublin Regulation, which are designed to secure and protect the borders of European countries.  Despite their mumblings, they seem to have no real clue as to how the provisions of these agreements can possibly be applied under the current circumstances.  Some countries seem resigned to accept the refugees that turn up on their borders, while others are doing all that they can to re-route their flood of humanity or pass them on to other neighbouring countries to get rid of their problem.  The humanitarian nature of the citizens of many European countries is demanding that their leaders relax provisions in order to accept a share of responsibility for rehousing the refugees, while others are concerned about what this may mean in the longer term for the makeup, nature and culture of their country.

Without detracting from the immediate humanitarian disaster that needs a short-term solution, European and world leaders can be justified in asking a few searching questions as longer-term solutions will need to be considered once the refugees have been clothed, fed, treated and housed in the near-term.  Some of the questions, to which I have not found answers yet, are the following:
  1. What happened that the refugee problem has suddenly arisen at this time?  The Syrian civil war and the conflicts in Iran and Afghanistan have been ongoing for some time already.  Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands have been killed, and many more injured and displaced.  Why did these refugees not run and seek shelter in Europe some time ago?  What was the real trigger to the sudden flight that we see now?  Is this related in any way to the more public involvement of ISIS, and the realisation of what an ISIS caliphate will mean to them?
  2. How many of the refugees are really economic migrants?  In recent years, there has been a distinction drawn between those who seek asylum as refugees, and those who do so in order to improve their economic situation.  Many countries try to do their best to make this distinction clearer, in order to provide required assistance to refugees while rejecting economic migrants who do not qualify for naturalisation.  The migrants naturally do all that they can to confuse those trying to separate the refugees from the economic migrants, in order to secure themselves the best possible chance of being accepted to a new country and a new life.  It is clear that many of the current wave of refugees are escaping war-torn countries and situations in which it is impossible to survive.  Amongst them, however, are more than a few who are truly economic migrants and who are merely jumping on the bandwagon to take advantage of a situation.
  3. Where are their Arab brethren in assisting the refugees?  All of the refugees in the current crisis are Arabs.  Some are Christian Arabs, but the vast majority are Moslem Arabs.  Most of them are Sunni Moslems, who made up some 74% of the Syrian population prior to the civil war.  With countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates being majority Sunni Moslem, there is surely enough money and space to accommodate the  refugees within the Sunni Arab world quite easily?  And yet, there seems to be a thundering silence from the Arab world at a time when their brethren are desperate for help.
  4. Is this a ploy to gain a greater Muslim foothold in Europe?  The words of Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, cannot be ignored entirely.  He said that Europeans risk becoming a minority on their own continent.  This is an interesting concept, particularly when there is no such thing as a "European" nationality.  The European continent has historically been split, divided and conflicted by many different interests, nationalities and religious strains.  In the face of a threat to the continued existence of these nationalities in their current form, however, a European nation has suddenly and unexpectedly arisen.  There are those who contend that this refugee crisis is a conspiracy on the part of Muslim leaders to allow Muslims to infiltrate in Europe in a manner greater than has been the case until now.   There is much evidence of the effects of the Islamisation of Europe.  Muslims have made attempts to set up enclaves of Sharia law in the UK and France (in addition to what they achieved in some African countries).  The sight of British and French-born Muslims leaving their homes to join the ranks of ISIS has shocked many.
  5. What is the role of ISIS in the crisis?  An ISIS announcement in the midst of the building refugee crisis in Europe said that hundreds of ISIS activists are scattered amongst the refugees claiming asylum in Europe.  It is difficult not to notice the disproportionate number of young men among the refugees.  While the announcement by ISIS may simply be opportunistic rather than an action that was pre-planned, it is something that cannot be completely ignored.
The question arises as to whether Europe has learned the lesson of wars and refugees to extend a helping hand (in some cases) to the current refugees?  Or has the Internet and social media forced their hand due to public demand, such that they have no choice but to help the refugees?  Never before has a refugee crisis of this magnitude been such a social media sensation.  It is reported that many of the Syrian refugees are buying SIM cards in their new European host countries even before buying food, to ensure that their predicament can be on Facebook as soon as possible.  This has certainly proven itself to be a powerful tool in their hands.  Previous crises of this magnitude have not enjoyed the same level of European and western response before.  We can only think back to the crises during the Holocaust and those in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, to name but a few, where the response was much less enthusiastic and resulted in the deaths of millions of victims.

War is never a pleasant event, and our generation seems to experience more than its fair share of conflict.  It is pleasing that there are countries who are prepared to come to the short-term aid of the refugees.  But does this present a longer-term problem for these countries?  These are questions that only time can answer.

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