The Refugee’s Struggle

The Refugee’s Struggle

Sunday 2 April 2017 - Thomas Ryan

When all eyes were on the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, during her first speech on the 13th July 2016, something very different was happening off the coast of Lesbos. Four dead bodies were being dragged from the sea after a dinghy that was carrying migrants had capsized off the east coast. A young girl and boy were among the four that perished in the sea trying to gain access to Europe.

Unfortunately, this is no longer a rare occurrence in the Mediterranean. The International Organisation for Migration claims that 240,884 people entered Europe by sea last year and a staggering 2,954 migrants had died at sea since July 2015. Compare that with the figure the year before and we see an increase of 1,000 dead.

The importance of the EU referendum and the subsequent party divisions are well noted, and it was understandably in most discussions. However, it appears that the media in the UK have been negligent to ignore the ongoing and deteriorating migration situation in both Europe and across the Middle East.

Syria has seen the largest mass departure of citizens in the world since the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago. More than 11 million people have either been killed during the conflict or forced to move from their homes.

Now Syrian residents face the daunting task of either opting to begin a dangerous and most likely life-threatening journey to Europe, or stay in a country torn between a brutal civil war and the ongoing spread of Islamic extremism under the leadership of the Islamic State.

A refugee is somebody that is fleeing their home state for safety. Some young, some old, some richer with mobile phones, some poorer with simple wooden toys, some fit and strong, some desperate and weak, but they all crave and deserve safety.

The journey to Europe is a near impossible, with families having to flee their homes in the cover of night to avoid being subjects to sniper fire. In addition, there is the further risk of men being caught by soldiers and forced to fight, or women and girls being snatched and sold into the sex trade. These people are easy prey for human traffickers, and the UK and Europe as a continent should be morally obliged to do more to help those who have nothing.

The rise of nationalism in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary and Austria only threaten the safety and prospects of Syrian refugees, and could possibly damage the work that has already been done. Fortunately, Nationalism has been kept at bay in Austria over the weekend, although nobody is certain hold long this situation would remain unchanged . A number of EU countries are adopting migration policies that are detrimental to their neighbours, with both Bulgaria and Hungary erecting barb-wired fences in order to keep travelling immigrants out.

This is not the inclusive Europe that innocent war victims need. This is not the leadership that our countries deserve. History has taught us that we must stop sacrificing innocents in order to preserve domestic political stability.

While public services may be placed under more pressure, and there may be less homogeneity in the race, culture language people have grown to be familiar with; but barriers should not be erected to prevent help from reaching those who need it the most.

A refugee is somebody that is fleeing their home state for safety. Some young, some old, some richer with mobile phones, some poorer with simple wooden toys, some fit and strong, some desperate and weak, but they all crave and deserve safety.

Europe can provide this safety. Europe can offer these people the security, stability and opportunity that they need to rebuild their lives and contribute to our globalised world.

The UN estimates that half of the five million refugees that have applied for asylum are under the age of 18, with many not having attended school in months, sometimes years. Every day that these children sit in a desolate camp in North Iraq is a day wasted, a day they go without the basic human right to be educated, a day they go without being given the opportunities that most take for granted on a daily basis.

Throughout their journey out of Syria whether it be to Europe or neighbouring nations, refugees are exploited. The organisation Mercy Corps reported that they had seen cases where families were living in rooms with no basic amenities like running water or heating. Some cases included refugees living in abandoned chicken coups or disused sheds

Despite their accommodation inadequate and unfit for human habitation, they still must pay rent. This means that most must find some form of employment, which is illegal in certain states. Many refugees have taken on exploitative jobs with long hours and very low pay, making it difficult to pay for necessities, which make crime an unavoidable route to secure their families’ livelihoods.

Europe is refusing to work together on this issue and the UK government seem to think that they no longer have to contribute to solving this issue due to Brexit. However, the EU will hold the UK responsible for being an active and full member of the EU until its departure. There is no getting out of this for May’s government and quite rightly so.

There is no clear or definite solution to this prevailing problem, but cooperation and compromise is a necessary step for countries and governments to take to see an eventuality to this tragedy. With every decision taken by the countries involved, the principle that the refugees are people must be central. They are not statistics or bargaining chips. They are also not terrorists, no matter what the tabloids would like you to believe.

Every refugee has a story, a life, a purpose and all must be done to ensure that they live on after this conflict to be one of the survivors that have been helped and saved, not one of the many abandoned left to die.

Mercy Corps created a piece on what some Syrian refugees brought with them when they left Syria:

  •  Sajida – 14 years – a necklace that was a gift from her best friend in Syria
  • Muhanad – 7 years – a robot toy from his grandfather, who was killed during the conflict
  • Muhammad – 18 years – a mobile phone that he uses to contact his family and friends back in Syria
  • Basma – 15 years – a watch that was a birthday present from her aunt
  • Manar – family photographs were the only things she was allowed to take across the border

This small list shows that no matter what people’s perceptions of refugees or asylum seekers are, they are still humans. They grieve for the loved ones they have lost, they cherish the trinkets that they have acquired throughout their life, they benefit from technology such as mobile phones, but deep down they are hurting. A nation of people abandoned by their government and now by Europe.

Every one of those 2,954 people that died in the Mediterranean was a life, with friends, families and a story to tell. And just like the two young children off the coast of Lesbos, they have perished.

I urge all of my readers to donate as little or as much to the UN relief fund for refugees in order to help ensure that no more die in vain without getting the help they need. The world is a darker place without those that have died on their path to safety.

Donation site: https://donate.unhcr.org/gb-en/general/?gclid=CMHY9sHOgM4CFUGfGwod1yUFhA&gclsrc=aw.ds

Mercy Corps profiles on what refugees bought with them: https://www.mercycorps.org.uk/photoessays/jordan-syria/we-asked-refugees-what-did-you-bring-you

About the author

Author: Thomas Ryan