Refugees face impossible choices
Louise Finan, Middle East Advocacy Officer
For those of us who have been following the humanitarian fallout of the conflict in Syria and in Iraq, the distressing images of men, women and children seeking refuge throughout Europe come as no surprise.
In Syria, as the violent conflict continues to rage, over four million have been forced to seek safety and protection outside their own country. In the beginning most of these people left for neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey, with the assumption that they wouldn’t need to stay there very long, just long enough for sense to reign and a peaceful and democratic solution to be brought about.
Five years later those assumptions have proved devastatingly wrong. A quarter of a million are dead, while tens of thousands are missing or imprisoned. More than half the population, 12 million, are homeless and displaced. For those who have stayed in Syria, there has been no end to the devastation brought about by barrel bombs, snipers, rockets and grenades. Many communities are still besieged, a punishment for being caught in the middle of warmongers.
It is no surprise then that those four million living in temporary conditions in the countries surrounding Syria see no immediate hope of return to their country and former lives. The choices they face are limited and stark. Should families continue to live in hastily constructed tents and outhouses as winter approaches? Should families continue to rely on the food parcels which the UN warn they will no longer be able to fund across the region, not just for Syrians, but for those displaced within Iraq too in the coming months?
These are the worries which plague Syrian mothers such as Laman who, with her three children, fled across the border to Northern Iraq to escape the horror that began to unfold in their hometown of Aleppo three years ago. Sitting with Laman in the small garage she has been renting for her family in Sulymaniah, she spoke of the anxiety and worry she carries for her children and how she is beginning to feel little choice than to move again in search of security for them.
As choices run out many will continue the cycle of movement and displacement which they have been forced into, in the hope they will find safety and security, creating what the UN has described as the world’s biggest refugee crisis. And in the middle of this are hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, displaced countless times inside Lebanon, plus those now displaced from Syria to Lebanon. Like the Syrians, the Palestinians are holding on to an ever receding hope that they may one day return home. Leaving the Syrian situation unresolved is in danger of creating another long term refugee crisis in the Middle East.
If the international community acts now we have a chance to avoid making the very same mistakes the history books warn us about. It is now time to prioritise peace. Our global leaders have a responsibility to find political solutions to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Until this happens we will continue to see the desperation of those forced into impossible choices, risking their lives and that of their families to reach safety.
While we search for peace, we also have a moral obligation to provide for all these men, women and children who have demonstrated incredible resilience and strength. The EU and all its member states should help these people in need. Germany and Sweden have shown the way. Other member states, including the UK must also take a fair share and play a proactive role in the development of this plan. Let’s remember too, the needs of all those refugees and displaced who remain in the region. We must ensure aid gets to those communities who need it. We must ensure that children can continue their education and that men and women have the right to earn a living.
We have seen the people of Europe stand in their thousands in solidarity with those fleeing these brutal conflicts in the Middle East. It is now time for our leaders to do the same.
Christian Aid has launched a Refugee Crisis Appeal to support its work with churches and other agencies providing humanitarian care in Europe and the Middle East.