Syrians in distress
The refugee crisis
The news reports we see nightly on the television are very distressing: crowds surging around lorries in Calais; police herding families away from trains in Hungary; collapsing rubber dinghies discharging women and children onto beaches in Greece; and people dying after being stuffed into air-tight lorries. Populations are on the move towards Europe in numbers that have not been seen since the Second World War. We are all disquieted by the news and yet we know that the scenes portrayed are redolent with human misery. Happily, people in the UK never feel the need to abandon everything and seek refuge in an alien country simply in order to survive. Before we are tempted to raise the drawbridge on our island, and pretend the problem is for others to solve, we must seek to understand the position of those refugees
We are witnessing the movement of refugees from many countries but the most common denominator of all their stories is the failure of any semblance of good government, and the Rule of Law in the countries from which they come. In the UK, we take for granted our expectation that those who govern generally do so for the good of the people. If only that were also the case in Libya, Eritrea, Syria, and Afghanistan – to name but a few.
Take Syria as an example. It is one of the countries now being deserted by its people in their millions. The Assad regime is a despotic family dynasty rooted in just one section of Syrian society that has ruled by physical and financial oppression. Its raison d’être has been to safeguard its own position of absolute power and maintain the family elite in a life of luxury. It has been sustained by its links with the equally corrupt clerical regime in Iran and through treaties with Russia which has supplied many of its weapons of oppression. The formation of the Free Syrian Army was a response to this injustice and many young Syrians gave it their allegiance in what turned into a civil war – since Assad had no intention of considering any compromise arrangement smacking of democracy. In the chaos and economic failure that war inevitably produces, the Free Syrian Army could not deliver on its hopes to feed and free the population, and those who had given it allegiance then found their lives at risk. There was no way back to simple subservience under the old regime and it is no surprise that many fell into the ideological and physical clutches of ISIS, a ruthless movement inspired by the most extreme interpretation of Islam.
With factional war taking no account of civilian casualties, with homes, businesses, jobs, schools and hospitals all being destroyed and people forced into take sides and fighting, it is no wonder that many Syrians fled. However, if we think the numbers seeking to come to Europe are huge, we know nothing. We are wilfully ignorant of the millions that have fled to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The refugees rich or intelligent enough to be able to pay the people traffickers to go further, comprise the key people on which their own country would normally depend for its commerce, governance and administration. Many speak good English – they are articulate but desperate. In absolute numbers, however, they are a small minority of those who have fled.
So how should the UK respond? Firstly we must show that we care. It is entirely reasonable that the burden of refugees is fairly shared across Europe and in this country we have the resources and the space to look after many. The only thing we lack is the political ‘bottle’ to contribute and mobilise the resources to welcome tens of thousands of refugees and care for them until such time as it is safe for them to return. Few would have chosen to leave Syria had it been a country of peace, prosperity and justice and we must play our part in giving them a country to go back to.
But how can we bring that about? Looking at recent history of involvement from Afghanistan to Libya, it seems we have tried everything between outright invasion and simply altering the balance of power. There is no model of obvious success yet we cannot walk away – the problem comes to us in the form of huge numbers of our fellow human beings seeking sanctuary from hell on earth.
I see no redemption for ISIS: it is an evil cult that I classify along with Hitler’s Nazis. It cannot be negotiated or reasoned with and it’s so toxic that it can only be eliminated by military force. Even nations such as Russia and Iran must surely realise there is no advantage in turning blind eye to a movement that considers it a duty to kill those who do not confess or comply with its intolerant doctrines and rejection of knowledge, learning, tradition, culture, creativity and alternative beliefs. The task is one for the United Nations to undertake, bringing together forces from around the world to exterminate the evil of the so-called ‘Islamic State'. Next, the UN has to identify and supervise new governments in countries like Syria with powers to ensure that factions and corruption do not uproot the purpose of government, which is to serve the people and establish democracy and the Rule of Law.
I am sure that given the opportunity, most Syrian refugees would want to return home, if only they could. I have received many emails and messages from constituents saying that they would willingly offer food and shelter to Syrian refugee families if only our Government would allow them to come here in the first place. I only hope that the Government changes its mind in response to the generosity of the British people to offer much-needed sanctuary to a people who are suffering beyond belief.