European governments have turned their backs on the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, and Britain in particular has a huge compassion deficit. It’s time we remembered what caused this mess in the first place
A heartbreaking photograph of a dead Syrian toddler whose lifeless body washed up on a beach in Turkey yesterday added a very real dimension to the so-called European ‘migrant’ crisis. ‘Only by the grace of God is this not your child‘, said many Facebook users who shared the devastating image of this innocent child. ‘The failure of the world in one photo‘, another commented.
His name was Aylan. He was just three years old when he drowned in the Mediterranean sea, along with his five year-old brother Galip. The boys were making the treacherous crossing from Bodrum in Turkey to the Greek island of Kos with their father. They were fleeing violence, oppression and starvation in Kobani, a town in Northern Syria which has long been the scene of fighting between ISIS militants and Kurdish forces. Aylan’s boat capsized 30 minutes into the crossing, and the brothers (who were not wearing lifejackets) didn’t stand a chance. Three other children and a woman were among the 12 who died. The image of Aylan’s limp body went viral within hours, becoming the top trending picture on Twitter under the hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik (humanity washed ashore).
Last year, over 3000 people died crossing the Mediterranean in a desperate attempt to reach Europe. In 2015, those figures are set to double. The number had already passed 2500 by mid-summer, and increases daily. Most of the people fleeing their homes come from countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East: they are not economic ‘migrants’ but rather asylum seekers who have no choice to risk life and limb in search of survival elsewhere.
Hungary, Macedonia, Greece, Italy and The Czech Republic are the European countries struggling to cope with the sheer number of refugees who are desperate for asylum. Turkey, although not a member of the EU, is also under enormous strain as thousands of families flow into the country to find a way of reaching Europe. Germany, which handles around a quarter of all European asylum claims, has announced it will not turn away Syrian refugees, and Chancellor Merkel has criticized other member states for not doing enough to ease the collective burden.
Britain’s David Cameron seems to have conveniently forgotten that starting a brutal civil war in Syria was directly responsible for the crisis we are now witnessing, and he repeated on Wednesday in the wake of Aylan’s tragic viral image hitting the press that the UK would not open its borders. The UK’s mainstream press (in particular the rabid, vile, neo-fascist Daily Mail) prefers to stir up fear and loathing within the public mindset, rather than offering any debate about possible solutions.
It is time for people to understand that they cannot support illegal and immoral military actions in oil-rich countries without acknowledging the obvious consequences of these invasions (which include increased terrorist reprisal attacks in addition to the influx of desperate refugees). Western imperialist nations such as the USA and Britain have a duty and a responsibility to re-home those who lost everything when their troops began bombing the sh*t out of civilian areas in an effort to ‘spread freedom and democracy’. The lie that our troops are ‘liberating’ Syrians/Iraqis/Afghans/Libyans (take your pick) from evil, villainous despot leaders is one which has been repeated by leaders and their poodles in the mainstream media for 14 long years since the false flag attacks of 9/11. How long are we going to swallow this bullshit? Wake up, already!
The truth is that Britain and the USA couldn’t care less about freedom or human rights. You only need look at the systematic destruction of civil liberties at home to understand this fact. We need a military presence in the Middle East for reasons which are entirely financial (the arms trade, the oil fields, the rebuilding contracts) and strategic (the region provides a crucial geopolitical foot-hold for them to eventually wage war on Iran, which is no doubt the final target of this Mad Max-style horror we have inflicted on innocent Arabic civilians). The smear campaign against Muslims has been carefully planned from the outset to ensure that by this stage, so many Westerners have developed an acute case of Islamophobia that their compassion levels are close to zero. This dehumanizing of ‘the other’ allows our puppet-masters to roll the dice and keep playing their psychopathic game, with relatively little protest from the average Joe.
While ISIS is usually cited as the main reason for refugees fleeing Syria, we must ask ourselves how this terrorist group was actually created in the first place. Noam Chomsky rightly believes it would never have come into existence if the USA and Britain had not illegally invaded Iraq back in 2003. Stories of ISIS jihadists waging terror with CIA-issued weapons and tanks should not be brushed under the carpet either; they deserve further investigation. To pretend that our military and governments have no part to play in this mess is both short-sighted and naive.
Luckily, there is a ray of hope. While our disgraceful leaders turn their backs on the crisis, individual people all over Europe are volunteering to help those in need. One organization doing amazing work is MOAS (the Migrant Offshore Aid Station), which is a registered foundation based on the small island of Malta. It is dedicated to preventing loss of life at sea by providing assistance to refugees who find themselves in distress while crossing the Mediterranean.
Equipped with a 40-meter vessel, two remote piloted aircraft, two inflatable boats and a highly experienced team of rescuers and paramedics, MOAS is able to locate, monitor, and assist boats in distress. With no government funding, the project is financed entirely by private individuals and led by Martin Xuereb, Malta’s former Chief of Defense. Up until now, 9313 lives have been saved by these brave individuals (10,000 in its first year alone).
Many of those rescued are babies, pregnant women, and unaccompanied children. When you consider the terror of crossing the ocean as a small child- completely alone, probably orphaned- to go to an unknown place where nobody speaks your language, it seems even more despicable that the general public’s reaction to the crisis is one of apathy. They, along with David Cameron, should hang their heads in shame and hope that they never need suffer the same fate.
In such a turbulent world, we would do well to remember that our own future safety is not guaranteed. We are all part of one global family, connected at a level which is not divisive and does not recognize distinctions of religion, culture, nationality or race. We are one, so let’s start reaching out and showing love and compassion for our fellow human beings. The first step is to pressure our governments to unite once and for all to meet and discuss ways in which the burden of immigration could be fairly shared throughout EU member states and other developed nations.
The video below shows a rescue mission by MOAS in the Mediterranean this summer. A three-week search and rescue program was successful in saving the lives of hundreds of men, women, children and babies who would otherwise have drowned. To continue their urgent work, MOAS need your help. Please consider sharing this article to raise awareness, and donating whatever you can to the team’s rescue efforts by clicking here.
This article was first published on 3 September 2015 here under the original title ‘This could be your son. Where is the love and compassion in the debate about Europe’s refugee crisis?’