With refugee week over for another year and compassion fatigue deeply entrenched, it’s easy to forget – or refuse to acknowledge – that the refugee crisis is far from over.
One of the biggest contributors to this humanitarian crisis that will resonate for years, if not decades, to come has been the Syrian conflict. Seven years of war, torture and barrel bombs has internally displaced 6.6 million Syrians and made 6.3 million refugees. There are more to come.
Since mid-June the Syrian regime has launched a major offensive against Daraa province, known for its dusty border town that was coined the cradle of the revolution after 15 young boys were tortured by the regime for spraying anti-government graffiti on a school wall. Located south of the capital Damascus, Daraa is one of the last opposition strongholds left in the country.
Last year the US, Russia and Jordan agreed that Daraa would be a de-escalation zone yet in their latest push to take back control of the country the Syrian army has occupied more than half the area and killed over 175 people. Some 320,000 Syrians have fled.
But whilst we once saw footage of Syrians crowded into camps in the neighbouring countries, those fleeing from the Daraa offensive face a new challenge. Jordan and Israel have refused to open their borders so thousands have set up makeshift camps overlooking the barbed wire fences that separate them from safety. They have insufficient food, water and medicine.
It is here in the sweltering summer heat that many of the displaced Syrians now await their fate, hoping that a politician with a shred of integrity makes the decision that these people are in fact humans, have survived a horrific war, and that they really should open the border and offer them a bed to sleep on.
So far in 2018 42,213 people of all different nationalities have risked their lives to reach Europe by sea; 1,237 have drowned, even more have perished in the unforgiving sands of the Sahara Desert. Politicians across the world have blood on their hands for this.
We have so dehumanised refugees that recent investigations, like the one by the Associated Press which revealed how over the past 14 months Algerian authorities marched 13,000 people, some of them at gunpoint, into the Sahara Desert, do not even stir our collective conscience. These people, among them pregnant women and children, were pointed in the direction of Niger, so desperate were the government for them not to seek refuge in Algeria.
Positions are hardening and it is the refugees who pay the price. At the end of June Malta eventually agreed to accept a humanitarian rescue ship holding 234 refugees after a week of haggling between European countries over who would, or wouldn’t, take them. Earlier that month Italy and Malta both refused to let the French humanitarian ship Aquarius land and the 630 refugees on board had to travel an extra 900 miles to Spain.
For those who do not die in the desert, of dehydration on board a rescue ship or at the hands of smugglers, their fate in Europe must lead us to seriously question what kind of people we are for allowing this to happen. The New York Times recently detailed how the Danish government is introducing new legislation which will target low-income, largely Muslim, immigrant neighbourhoods in the country.
Under these new laws children – who have become known as “ghetto children” in the press – will be separated from their parents at the age of one for 25 hours a week to be taught the Danish language and the Easter and Christmas celebrations in a bid to force them to assimilate. If they refuse they may lose access to state benefits. Authorities are mulling over whether the punishment for certain crimes should double if they are committed in one of these “ghettos”.
Even Angela Merkel, who was once lauded for her open-door refugee policy which saw Germany open its borders to over a million people fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in 2015, has now pledged to reverse this and build transit centres along the country’s border with Austria. Asylum seekers will be held here until they’re approved for entry or sent back to other EU countries they have registered in along the way. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has declared he will seal off his borders with Italy and Slovenia if Germany goes ahead with its plan.
Perhaps the most public of inhumane refugee policies over recent weeks took place on the US-Mexico border after the Trump administration set about forcibly separating children from their parents after they crossed the border to seek refuge in the US. Over a one month period more than 2,300 children were separated from their parents, and then often from their siblings, and placed in wire mesh cages whilst their parents were prosecuted.
Yet amidst the outrage which ensued in the UK the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees (Bid) came forward to say that so far this year it has represented 155 parents who have been separated from a child or children while in immigration detention in the UK. Then, earlier this week, the Home Office admitted that it had forced a number of asylum seekers to take DNA tests to prove they really were the foreign parents of British children and that if the test was not completed their application to stay would be rejected.
For politicians across the world refugees are not human beings any more, they are an inconvenience, rubbish to be disposed of before they interfere with the next election results. If their journey begins by escaping a bomb and ends as a “ghetto child” subject to discriminatory laws, we must question both how we have come to this and whether as a nation we have any humanity left.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.