The phrase, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words,’ has become a cliché of sorts in today’s Instagram-happy world where a single photo, selfie or otherwise, can be circulated among across millions around the world.
However, as overwrought as its use has become today, it was only too correct when the now infamous image of a young, three-year old boy, dead and washed up on a Turkish beach, far from home or hope, went viral. The boy, Aylan Kurdi, was not the first one, nor will he be the last, to perish in the ongoing exodus of thousands as they flee violence and persecution in their native countries.
Why are these people fleeing in the thousands?
There are some answers but, where are the solutions?
Why are supposedly-rich Gulf States like Saudi Arabia refraining from supporting these refugees?
One can only hypothesize, considering they are pretty tight-lipped about the whole matter.
And most importantly, why did it take the death of a young boy to trigger our conscience and our humanity?
That is a question we can only ask ourselves.
What is going on?
It is difficult to put a finger on the exact time when the present European refugee crisis came into being. West Asia and the Middle-East has never been the safest, or even the most stable part of the world but for most of its history, the number of refugees had always been manageable. In fact for years, Europe used to pay Libya’s Muammar Qadaffi to intercept and turn back refugees fleeing to Europe on boat. But, in the absence of strong institutions after Gulf War II (‘War of Choice’) and the Arab Spring of 2011, the region descended into a spiraling chaos of violence and anarchy. In fact, the most significant institution to come out of these events was the Islamic State, and God knows that didn’t turn out too well.
Today, the Islamic State has large swathes of territories in Iraq and Syria under its control, its forces on the doorsteps of both Baghdad, and more recently, Damascus. Put it simply, it is very easy to understand why the native Syrian population, 1/5th of which has already fled to Europe or neighbouring countries is having such trouble staying there, especially as they find themselves trapped between the fanatical IS and the equally ruthless pro-Assad forces. And, it’s not just Syria. Many of these refugees also come from Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia and even, Pakistan; all countries with a recent history of turbulent internal strife.
The European Reaction
The refugee crisis has gone on for over a year now and yet, we are no closer to find a solution to this exodus. A lot of the responsibility, or rather the blame, for this crisis lies at the footsteps of Europe and the US. As if invading another country on faulty evidence and without UN mandate was not enough, the attitude of the EU and the US over the year and a half has been nothing but callous. Even as EU leaders met in Luxembourg last week, a consensus on a uniform plan of action is yet to emerge. So, as Slovakia stands firm on accepting only Christian refugees, Hungary resolves to build a wall to stop the influx of more refugees and Great Britain stands indecisive, Greece and Italy remain overwhelmed with the thousands of such refugees who come in every day.
Germany however, to its credit has been very vocal about its ability and willingness to give shelter to such refugees (To counter the Anti-Semitic exodus of the 1930’s but, fortunate all the same). The problem however is the fact that Germany is not accessible by way of the Mediterranean, or the Balkans, which means that getting to Germany, means a long transit through much of the rest of Europe. The rest of Europe on the other hand, claims to stand by the Dublin Regulation (One which Germany has temporarily suspended), an EU law which requires refugees to stay in the first EU country they arrive in until their asylum process is complete, which is why there is hardly any respite for many in Greece and Italy. In reality however, EU law has perhaps nothing to do with the present crisis but is instead, a mirror to the xenophobic and racist nature of the largely Christian-Judea Europe, a nature which is largely anti-immigrant, a wave that Donald Trump has ridden on the top of in the United States.
Will the Arab World please stand up?
However, as much as the blame and responsibility lies with Europe and the United States, it also lies with much of the Arab world, especially the rich Gulf States of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. As of now, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan remain the only countries offering shelter to these refugees. But apart from Turkey to a certain degree, the other two are hardly stable, or even safe. Lebanon has had a history of civil war while Jordan doesn’t even have enough clean water for its own citizens. Even the UNHCR camps in these countries are sorely lacking as it reports a funding gap of over 40%, with countries like Saudi Arabia contributing less than half of what Finland has contributed. After Aylan’s death came to the fore, someone commented that the father was to blame for flirting with a greedy, dangerous life to a land so far. Dangerous perhaps, but did he have a choice?
Much of the Gulf-States today, are based on the idea of tribal and ethnic unity, and the need to maintain the sanctity and homogeneity of its people. This is therefore, the main reason why the thousands who migrate to such countries, including Indian expats who provide the much needed cheap labour in these countries are never given citizenship. Citizenship comes with rights and autonomy, a political economy that the ruling elite of these states want to keep within their tribes, a fact which is why refugees are more naturally inclined to flee to the so-called land of the free, the West. For the Arab world of Saudi Arabia (especially considering its clandestine support of Sunni militants), Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Bahrain to accuse Europe of moral bankruptcy is hypocrisy. After all, if they are so keen on lecturing the Christian world on acting very un-Christian, why are they letting their Muslim brethren flee to the land of the ‘infidels’ themselves?
It is sad to realize that it took a photo of a helpless, dead kid on a beach for the world to turn its attention to the refugee crisis that has been going on for over a year. Why now, some ask. Perhaps, a dead child reflects all that is going down in this world, the loss of innocence being one of them. But, didn’t the world already know that?
Wasn’t the world averse to the fact that innocents are being slaughtered by the thousands as they are gunned down, bombed, raped and drowned in the turbulent waters of the Mediterranean? The fact is, we always knew. And we did nothing.
Someone famously said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” It is certainly appropriate for times like these.
The world has failed Aylan, it has failed humanity.