Today, my cousin will ignore the lives the sea has swallowed and overlook the suffocated dead. He will move at night on unknown ground, hide amongst trees with trembling nerve. He will steel his heart for moments of possible capture and failure, and he will, like thousands of others, risk his life for an unknown one, amid new faces in an unfamiliar land. It is desperation: the furthest measure of desperation, really.
But I’m not writing to tell the story of my cousin’s harrowing escape, nor those of the innumerable Syrians like him. I’m not writing to appeal to emotion or humanity, which has not and does not work. Frankly, tragedies will affect only those whom tragedy has affected before.
But I am writing to appeal to reason, to outline a more effective, tangible way of addressing the Syrian migrant issue.
Although select members of the European Union have begun accepting a larger number of Syrian refugees, the response has remained, on the whole, mediocre. There persists an obdurate, pervasive unwillingness to accommodate the displaced.
Honestly, though, the EU’s reluctance is understandable. Helping large numbers of refugees is financially onerous. It permanently changes receiving countries’ demographics and stresses their resources. After all, they have their own issues to deal with, their own populaces to placate. It takes truly noble people (e.g. Angela Merkel) and governments to eschew such complications in favor of humanitarian concern. And so, if the natives of any country are unhappy with the flood of refugees, I get it. I don’t necessarily agree with them, but their concerns are understandable. What doesn’t make sense, though, is how these countries deal with the source of the problem.
Syrians are not fleeing their homeland on a whim. They are fleeing because their cities have become rubble, because their homes are dust, because of chemical suffocants and fatal bombs, because of the uncertainty of life and death. And that will not change so long as Bashar al-Assad’s regime is in power.
People at this point in the discussion often talk about ISIS, and rightfully so. But ISIS does not do a fraction of the damage to the Syrian people that the Assad regime does. Moreover, ISIS would not exist with its current influence if not for Assad’s rule. ISIS lives off of instability, survives on the incapabilities of an incapable regime. The refugees that Europeans hope to turn back will not stop coming so long as Assad remains in place.
And so, my appeal is not for Europe to open its arms and welcome those who have been driven from hell. It is, counter-intuitively, to continue opposing refugee immigration as it so vociferously has already. However, it must do so by exercising its political power in a different manner. The current European policy on Syria addresses the symptoms of a disease rather than addressing the disease itself. If it wants to stop the influx of refugees, Europe needs to work towards pushing Assad out.
It is no secret, moreover, why Assad remains in power. Support, whether overt or covert, from the major players persists—particularly from the United States, which remains content with his presence, his instability, and his weakness.
The US has never wanted Assad to leave, and so he hasn’t. It is no coincidence that the US trained Syrian rebels to fight ISIS and not the regime (the count of trained soldiers, in any case, totaled a laughable 120). It is also no coincidence that the US prevented Turkey from enforcing a no-fly zone in northern Syria, which would have purged the area of ISIS’s influence and allowed the internally displaced an opportunity to establish residency without the threat of governmental bombing. The US-Iran nuclear deal empowered Iran, which desperately hopes to keep the Syrian despot in power in order to maintain its sphere of influence throughout the Middle East (from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon and Yemen) as it struggles with Saudi Arabia for regional hegemony. When Staffan de Mistura said Assad must go, he also observed that this could happen only with US pressure. And despite President Obama’s recent condemnation of Russian involvement in the region (targeting rebel-held areas rather than ISIS), the US has remained content to let the dice fall as they have.
But this can change; international pressure can affect US policy. Those living in the European Union can stop the flood of refugees by using their own sovereignty to affect government action on Syria: they can pressure their own governments, and, by doing so, pressure the US. The action doesn’t need to be heavy-handed. It doesn’t need to involve soldiers. It just needs to involve the complete and total elimination of any idea, in action rather than empty, unfulfilled talk, that Assad can in any way be a part of Syria’s future.
The refugee crisis won’t end until Assad leaves. Fortunately, unlike Syrians, we—whether in Europe or the US—have a voice. Whether you are motivated by the innocent deaths or by your own country’s changing demographics, whether you are driven by humanitarian concerns or by economic consequences, the refugee crisis can end by fixing Syria. And, although it might take time, Syria’s fixing can’t begin except with the immediate retraction of any political support, whether overt or behind the curtains, for Assad’s regime. If you don’t like the refugee situation, start by doing what you can: don’t blame the refugees for fleeing, blame the government that has pushed the Syrians towards your waters and your homes.
The image featured in this article is licensed under Creative Commons. The original image can be found here.