Friday, October 30, 2015

A Staggering Problem With no Solution 

"After five years of war, you learn to wait and see. But with the harsh onset of winter, they will begin to walk. The situation is terrible."
"It is like a glass, [attempts to seal borders and coastlines] overflowing from the top."
Turkish senior government official
Volunteers and local residents help refugees and migrants disembark from a small vessel after their arrival in Skala Sykaminias on the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos on Friday, Oct. 30, 2015. Greek authorities say a number of people have died near other islands after two boats carrying migrants and refugees from Turkey to Greece sank overnight, in the latest deadly incident in the eastern Aegean Sea. (AP Photo/Kostis Ntantamis) 

Syrian Sunnis could be forgiven for not realizing what they were unleashing almost five years ago when they petitioned their government through popular protests to give them equal treatment to that recognizing the rights of Alawite Shiite Sunnis, a minority in the country represented by the ruling elite and their president, Bashar al-Assad. Those peaceful protests were met with violent government crackdowns.

That violence, where people were abducted, imprisoned, tortured and killed, including children, resulted in Syrians organizing themselves into rebel militias, intending to give as good as they got, and a civil war was born. Bashar al-Assad's military has strafed and bombed suburbs in the capital of Syria, Damascus. It has laid waste to its second largest city, Aleppo.

Its sectarian-induced violence against the majority-sect Sunnis has elicited the attention of Sunnis pledged to jihad throughout the Muslim world and brought them to Syria, to fight their own battles against the regime, some alongside the rebels, matching the regime's assistance from Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah, and their mentor Iran's al-Quds division of the Republican Guard Corps.

Because a similar situation was unfolding in Iraq, with a majority Shiite government refusing to share power with the minority Sunni Iraqis whom former President Saddam Hussein represented, Iraqi Sunnis were given reason to rebel and launch their own attacks against the governing Shiites, all fuelled by the removal of Saddam which resulted in wholesale massacres between the sects.

Out of that quagmire rose the Islamic State, crossing the border from Iraq to set up shop in Raqqa, Syria, and from there to conquer one-third of Iraq and of Syria, preying on minorities; Christians and Yazidis and other ethnic and religious groups, and with the Kurds representing the only organized militias determined enough and tough enough to maintain order in parts of each country where they have given protection against ISIL to those they threaten and persecute.

Over half of Syria's population of 22 million people has been displaced; four million externally; among those who have fled to refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey, over a half-million have gone on to perilous journeys to Europe for haven. Tens of thousands of Syrian babies have been born as refugees, some 60,000 in Turkey alone, at risk of becoming stateless.Over 50% of the UN-registered refugees in the Middle East and North Africa are children under the age of 18.

Pre-war Syria had a literacy rate of 86% where 96% of youth aged 15 to 24 were capable of reading and writing. High in comparison to other middle-income countries with similar economic development, though rarely advancing beyond high school. The per capita gross domestic product of Syria in 2010 was $5,200. Now, those who have left the country are on different trajectories.

"The poorest people would end up in camps. Now, with refugee camps filled to the brim, refugees are living wherever they can find a space. The ones leaving for Europe are usually middle class. They have the means to be able to cross [the Mediterranean], to take the boats and pay the smugglers", explains Thomas Pierret, an expert on Islam in Syria, from the University of Edinburgh.

Turkey is now bracing for over a million additional Syrians to spill across its borders, now that the fighting is once again intensifying, with the introduction of Russian and Iranian combatants aiding the Syrian military, along with Hezbollah, against the rebel militias. Islamic State does not appear to fit in the equation at all, going about its business, steadily expanding its caliphate, overlooked by Russia.

With two million refugees already stuffed into refugee camps, Turkey expects another one to two million; its capacity to cope questionable. And of that number some hundreds of thousands will, despite the onset of cold winter, continue to forge on to Europe, straining European capability to take them in and provide even the most basic of human survival necessities.

Ankara and the European Union have revived relations; the EU anxious to get Turkey on board to stemming the tide washing into Europe, and Turkey playing its cards to both receive EU cash to aid it to cope with its own refugee problems, and to gain concessions with visas and renewed EU membership efforts. Hopes are fast fading among the Syrian refugees that their homeland will ever beckon as a place to again raise families.

While European distemper is flaring between countries with Germany accusing Austria of driving asylum-seekers close to German borders rather than allow them to apply to Austria for haven. Asylum-seekers, with nowhere to go and no one to give aid, are forced to sleep in the open in freezing temperatures, awaiting the opportunity to cross borders.

Austria's interior minister has announced the country's plans to build a fence along its border with Slovenia to slow the desperate flow of refugees, in emulation of Hungary with its fence on the border with Serbia. Austria is struggling with 6,500 arrivals daily, even as German police record huge numbers of illegal entries.

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