Even Photos of Drowned Refugee Babies Do Not Dampen Anti-Immigrant Sentiment

Syrian Refugee Drowned Baby Girl off the coast of Greece, Photo Courtesy of Notimix

Syrian Refugee Drowned Baby Girl off the coast of Greece, Photo Courtesy of Notimix

EUROPEAN UNION - White House press secretary , Josh Ernest, told media members in 2015, that President Obama directed his team to get prepared to admit at least 10,000 refugees into the United States by the end of the next fiscal year. Since the civil war started in Syria, millions of civilians have been displaced and millions have fled the country. Yet, to date, “U.S. government data shows that just under 2,200 Syrian refugees have been admitted into the United States since the civil war broke out in March of 2011, and the vast majority of those were in the 2014.

The administration has acknowledged that processing resettlement applications is a slow and laborious task, which has kept the United States from accepting as many applicants as it would like to.” (Source: CNN) Many people blame this delay on the onerous requirements refugees from North Africa and the Middle East face, because of security concerns due to these areas being predominantly Muslim and the people from these areas being considered as potential security risks. However, many of these individuals are truly seeking asylum from the increasing violence inflicted upon them because they refuse to bow down to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria otherwise known as ISIS. They, like the rest of the world, find terrorism just as reprehensible as we do.

"An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011, taking refuge in neighboring countries or within Syria itself. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 3 million have fled to Syria's immediate neighbors Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria. Meanwhile, under 150,000 Syrians have declared asylum in the European Union, while member states have pledged to resettle a further 33,000 Syrians. The vast majority of these resettlement spots – 28,500 or 85% – are pledged by Germany." (Source: UNHCR) Meanwhile, several countries in the Middle East have also absorbed Syrian refugees, notably "Turkey, 249,726 in Iraq, 629,128 in Jordan, 132,375 in Egypt, 1,172,753 in Lebanon, and 24,055 elsewhere in North Africa.” 

Germany which took in 476,000 refugees claims that in 2015 there were actually at least 1 million refugees with asylum claims in their processing system. There have always been migrants trying to make it across the Mediterranean or Aegean Sea seeking a better life in Europe. But, because of the alacrity with which this migration has occurred, and the sheer numbers, most countries have implemented more stringent border control measures. The issue of human trafficking and the exploitation of these refugees, though an equally critical issue, is often ignored and under-reported.

In order to avoid the risks of exploitation, or their inability to come up with the money demanded for transport, desperate people have begun to utilize boats which aren't seaworthy to try and navigate to freedom. It has been reported that in some cases the sinking of boats have been as the result of direct attacks from Greek Coast Guard who try to prevent the refugees from reaching shore by shooting at their vessels. The tragedy is that in fleeing a death they may have faced in their countries of origin, they none-the-less end up dying and buried in watery graves, or washed ashore to be collected like flotsam.

Though refugees have been dying for years because of unseaworthy vessels, the magnitude of the numbers of people drowning as they attempt to cross and illegally enter Europe is now staggering. The perils that they face only recently became a reality when photographer, Nilufer Demir , took a picture of a three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, when his body washed ashore in one of the most popular tourist towns in Turkey, Bodrum in Izmir. The photo which was taken in September 2015 raised a public uproar as it circulated the world through news networks, online media, and social media. The tragedy was further compounded, when it was discovered that his older brother also drowned his body washed up on the beach just 50 meters from his baby brother. Turkish coast guards subsequently recovered an additional 10 bodies from the same accident.

A yacht captain in Bodrum, Turkey, who sails along Greek Islands for a tourism company, said everyone knows how it works. People all know where to get together. The bay has become a migration transit point. Yet, they are not stopped until they sail off, and eventually sink as a result of overload, insufficient equipment, “People are desperate. They are already escaping a war; water does not really scare them. When I go to port to pick up a passenger for our tours, someone always offer some money to me to get them to Kos Island. The money they offer is thousands of Euros,” he said. “No sensible person would take such a risk and responsibility. In most cases, people go ahead and buy their own inflatable boat, sometimes a very old fishing boat. They are always overloaded with people, and safety is not the priority. Eventually, in open waters a small mistake sinks the overloaded boat. (Source: Elvan Katmer)

Sunken Syrian Refugee Boat off coast of Greece, Photo Courtesy of Notimix

Sunken Syrian Refugee Boat off coast of Greece, Photo Courtesy of Notimix

"Some of the worse tragedies in 2015 included:

  1. Two boats carrying about 500 migrants sank after leaving Zuwara in Libya on 27 August
  2. The bodies of 71 people, believed to be Syrian migrants, were discovered in an abandoned lorry in Austria on 27 August
  3. A shipwreck off Italy's Lampedusa island killed about 800 people on 19 April
  4. At least 300 migrants are feared to have drowned after attempting to cross the Mediterranean in rough seas in early February

Survivors often report violence and abuse by people traffickers, who charge thousands of dollars per person for their services. The chaos in Libya in particular has given traffickers freedom to exploit migrants and refugees desperate to reach Europe.”  (Source: BBC)

Yet, most of the countries which are struggling to absorb the immigrants, many of whom do not speak the language nor understand the cultural nuances required to enable them to assimilate, consider them to be a burden. Because of these limitations, finding and maintaining employment to become contributing members of the societies in which they need to be accepted is all but impossible. This makes refugees easy scapegoats for politicians and right-wing xenophobes and Islamophobians. These individuals and groups through their incendiary rhetoric foment violence against non-citizens with the oft used claims that refugees bring disease, take jobs from nationals, increase the crime rate and are rapist. All these accusations are designed to foment violence against anyone perceived as an immigrant, even if these people are naturalized citizens or second generation nationals who were born in the country.

Unfortunately, Germany is a country that has long been vilified for it human rights violations. Too often the country receives negative news coverage, first because of its barbarous history of Nazism, and second because it has absorbed so many immigrants that many in the government feel over committed. Angela Merkl, the Chancellor of Germany has publicly voiced her opinion that the remainder of the E.U. nations are not making equivalent efforts. In fact, many have closed their borders or implemented such draconian measures as keeping refugees in unsanitary camps, or walling off their borders with barb wire fencing.

Because she is so vociferous and the high incidents of racism and violence against immigrants in Germany, many people perceive the country as callous. But, to only view them in this light doesn’t give the country credit with its successes in assimilating refugees and immigrants. The city of Cologne, which has a population of just over one million, has more than 120,000 practicing Muslim residents and the largest Jewish communities in Germany. (Source: Daily Mail U.K.)

There are many instances in the world where the assimilation of refugees and immigrants has led to more diverse and robust societies However, with increasing global conflicts, conditions in countries in the Middle East and Africa have made it easy to radicalization people as they seek redress for perceived wrongs from their government or foreign powers, or to impose a particular religious view, and even to homogenize and purify their countries and prevent “race mixing.” All of which are shameful, xenophobic, and utterly devoid of compassion.

But, at the heart of each of these dynamics, we must remember that we are dealing with people. With human beings who are just like us and but for circumstances, it would be us. The fact that it is such a massive undertaking to provide the comprehensive help these refugees need should only strengthen our resolve to find a realistic and long-term solution. We must continue to seek and implement solutions to the problems these people face while they still live in their own countries. Whether by more vigorous U.N. or NATO military intervention, or a significant increase in financial support to these war-torn countries through loans from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the problem though admitted costly must be dealt with. As we have seen, averting disaster is infinitely less expensive than trying to deal with it after the fact.

So, in conclusion, we must keep drowning refugee babies and adults foremost in our thoughts and prayers. It is important that this story remain in the trending news cycles, because when barbarism becomes commonplace, and we become inure to it, we are all well on our way to losing our humanity.

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