Our people have already made huge sacrifices hosting more than 2 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees, This is no time to build a Christian ‘fortress Europe’.
he heart-rending images of the lifeless body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, washed up on the shores of the Aegean, rightfully prompted a massive outpouring of indignation, particularly in Europe. Recognising the power of images, I hope against all hope that this dreadful incident of innocence lost will not be in vain; that we can all hold ourselves to account and take action together to prevent such needless loss of life.
But I also know that, in the minds of many, those horrible images are fleeting. Shock will lead to horror, horror will lead to fear – and that fear will fuel introversion. Such pictures will at best create procrastination, at worst hate and more xenophobia. And the innocent child Alan, together with the humanitarian catastrophe his unacceptable death symbolises, will not only be forgotten, they may potentially bring out the demons we thought we had buried long ago. This may sound pessimistic, even extreme. I challenge the leaders of Europe to prove me wrong.
We are living through a time of crisis. The Middle East and north Africa are in turmoil. Millions are displaced, fleeing war and persecution from far-flung geographies. For the first time in the postwar era, the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has reached almost 60 million, a historic record.
Since its inception, the EU has been grappling with migration, regular or irregular. And meaningful solutions have been sorely lacking. Moreover, in the ongoing cacophony, those voices that advocate for more walls and barbed wire are gaining strength. Some European leaders, as if to suggest that nothing can be learned from history, are even invoking Christianity as a rallying cry to keep refuge-seekers out.
The humanitarian crisis that is unfolding day by day is a test of our humanity as well as our morality. It is high time for Europe to look in the mirror, be honest about what it sees in the reflection, to stop procrastinating and start assuming more than its fair share of the burden. Radical politicians must not be allowed to pull the wool over the eyes of the European people.
Millions, be they African or Asian, Muslim or Christian, Arab or Kurd, Pakistani or Afghans, are not migrating of their own volition. They are forced to do so because of war, inter-communal strife, violence, famine, disease and discrimination. They need our help. And helping those in need is the ethos of all civilised societies, regardless of their race, religion or beliefs.
And if morality is not a good enough reason to tackle this issue in a humane way, it should be borne in mind that the highest wall or the sharpest barbed wire will not turn this tide around. We need meaningful, humane and sustainable solutions, and we need them now.
While we find ways to address the humanitarian suffering of those fleeing persecution or worse, we must also work harder to address the root causes of this irregular migration, or we will continue to be a target of it. This means more cohesive and effective involvement in solving the crises in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Defeating Islamic State, paving the way for a democratic transition in Syria without Assad, creating a functional federalism in Iraq, reuniting Libya and also Yemen are just some of the challenges.
Turkey, traditionally a transit country for irregular migration, is now also a top destination. The Turkish people have made huge sacrifices in hosting more than 2 million Syrians and Iraqis. By so doing, we have damped the mass influx to the EU and effectively become a buffer between chaos and Europe. Meanwhile, EU member states account for ridiculously low shares in the global resettlement rates.
We have spent more than $6bn (£3.9bn) for Syrians, Iraqis and other migrants in Turkey. The contribution we have received thus far from the international community stands at a fraction of this figure ($417m in total, out of which only $165m is from EU nations, including NGOs). The concept of burden-sharing has become a meaningless catchphrase. On the other hand, the number of irregular migrants apprehended crossing our territory during the past decade is approximately half a million. In 2014 alone, almost 60,000 irregular migrants were apprehended by the Turkish authorities.
The Turkish coastguard is sparing no effort, either in the Mediterranean or the Aegean, to maintain safety at sea. Already this year, they have rescued more than 48,000 migrants from the sea. Further measures are being taken to strengthen search-and-rescue operations. We are also working with our neighbours, such as Greece, Bulgaria and Italy, to prevent irregular migration.
But Turkey cannot succeed alone. EU members must shoulder their responsibility, show humility, be more open and adopt a humane stance in the face of this real humanitarian tragedy unfolding on its doorstep. The convenient reflex of putting the onus on Turkey, adopting a purely defensive approach with wholesale security measures and building walls to create a Christian “fortress Europe” may be attractive to those who have understood nothing about European history, but it will not work.
Such an approach is incongruent with European values. But most importantly, as a candidate for accession to the EU, we cannot bring ourselves to believe that this sort of self-righteousness would be supported by a majority of Europeans.
The time has come for Europe to get its act together on migration. Turkey stands ready to work in concert with our European partners to address this humanitarian catastrophe.
Resource: The Guardian, September 09, 2015