Syria’s Humanitarian Asylum: An Attempt to Frame the TragedyResearch and Studies
15 May 2017
by Siwar Al-Assad
The Syrian Refugee issue has recently been discussed from different theoretical perspectives dominated by political approaches. The latter were considered an extension to stances taken by different powers towards the political crisis in the country and their positions.
The asylum issue has been manipulated to directly or indirectly serve the political position of one party or another. Different think tanks and UN committees were no exception in this political deviation, which caused many countries, particularly Syria and Russia, to stress the importance of distancing the refugee issue from regional and international political tensions and to focus instead on dealing with the issue on a pure humanitarian grounds in order for the approaches to become consistent with their humanitarian dimension, not the political or the geopolitical dimension.
While it is clear and understandable that the political dimension is present, in one way or another and in various approaches including those that focus on keeping the refugee problem away from political discord, this does not mean, in any way, that there is no distinction between subjective approaches that adopt the humanitarian dimension when dealing with the issue and those that pay no attention to humanitarian dimension especially approaches that apply double standards in consideration and evaluation.
Such approaches see the humanitarian crisis in some Syrian areas while totally ignore it in others, discriminating against their residents because of precedent positions of warring powers on the ground.
Therefore our immediate aim in this article is to discuss the issue differently and highlight some of the deep humanitarian aspects of asylum regardless of any political or geopolitical investment. We have witnessed the emergence of this issue together with the unfortunate and horrible events that our country Syria has been living for more than six years of war and destruction to infrastructure and human life.
What we need to highlight first is to differentiate between immigration as a result of economic distress and associated difficult social situation, such as food resources scarcity, famine and diseases in poor countries. These countries have limited financial resources and lag behind in social development spectrum on one hand, and immigration as a result of conflicts and partial or full wars inside or outside their territories on the other, which is typically applied to the case of Syrian refugees.
We should also differentiate between refugees who seek a temporary safe haven until the causes of their asylum or displacement are gone, and those who immigrate permanently and consider resettlement in other countries the only way out. Naturally, each type of asylum requires the appropriate approach at local, regional and international levels, where ad hoc international agreements and treaties become the reference of such subjective approaches that are realistic and effective in dealing with the issue.
Thus, there are many forms of asylum including: economic, political or humanitarian. Each form requires a special thinking in causes and ways of treatment, although these forms could be merged in history especially when conflicts erupted because of political, economic and cultural factors altogether.
Asylum as a Tragedy
Asylum is a tragedy in the sense that people are forced to leave their homeland and the place where they lived and were brought up. No one chooses to leave his hometown under normal circumstances despite all odds and difficulties associated with living circumstances. Imagine such a tragedy for those who must displace coercively or must find a safe haven outside their homelands under new conditions that they have no ability to influence. All they can do is to accept these conditions no matter how cruel they are, because they have no other choice to stay alive.
Moreover, asylum is tragic because it poses itself in circumstances where survival by any means and in no time becomes on top of all priorities. This situation can be coercive when asylum is resultant from unexpected conflicts, in addition to all tragedies associated with citizen escape from conflict areas without being able to unite the family back again, which creates more human tragedies.
Asylum as a Multi-dimensional Burden
Asylum poses a national burden on the long run. However, it poses itself immediately once the conflict ends and all conditions are back to normal. This requires huge efforts at planning and expectation levels and procuring necessary resources for repatriating refugees.
Talking about necessary resources at this level is not only associated with financial resources, but also with social framing to overcome the negative effects on immigrants associated with immigration process and repatriation to their homelands and adaptation to new environments at all levels, whether economic, social or political. This also can be considered as a means of meeting immigrants’ morale needs that can rebuild their human identity and eliminate the effects of brainwashing that some citizen were exposed to during the war in Syria for more than six years. Add to that the wars that chased them in parts of asylum areas, especially those who lived for long periods in refugee camps in environments hostile to Syrian people and social and political institutions.
Investment in this field requires concerted efforts of all national forces Syria and in all countries caring for Syrian people regardless of their ideological, political or strategic orientations. This is based on the notion that humanitarian dimension is a common factor among all different countries and the indispensable capital in different conditions particularly crises with unique humanitarian dimension as Syrian crisis.
It is noteworthy that youth represent the largest part of asylum seekers, who could have been a human reserve for their country in social, economic and human development, large numbers of scientific competencies leave the country in such cases. It is not possible to talk about a true development without the ability to maintain and benefit from nation’s powers. The number of immigrant doctors has reached more than 16000 during the past six years, which is a good example of the crisis that Syria suffers in the fields of health and medicine besides the financial losses that it has incurred in forming these youth competencies without eventually benefitting from them. This actually poses a huge burden on society and state, which is unbearable without ending the conflict that was the cause for this dire reality and reinstating social, political and cultural peace that characterizes peaceful states and societies.
As asylum conditions are naturally prompt, immediate and not based on prior planning, they force families to respond immediately. A person often finds himself unable even to return home to organize his immigration and determine his destination, if he is already outside of his residence for some reasons when conflicts erupted. This explains the dispersal of families at displacement, migration and asylum, which often takes a long time to try to reunite families and families torn apart. Disorder in the concerned country, such as neighbouring countries as candidate host countries, leaves no opportunity for the refugees to solve their problems and reunite their families in suitable time, because refugees’ original countries and host countries alike have to find firstly for them before thinking about reuniting their families, and because it is a priority to deal with threats that endanger refugees in such exceptional cases at conflict-stricken areas.
Asylum also poses a psychological burden. Syria hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees from Palestine and millions of Iraqis during the US invasion and huge numbers of Lebanese throughout July 2006 war. Now Syrians find themselves in a situation where they need host countries. The effect of this sudden shift is evident, especially when a Syrian refugee is asked about his living conditions and he started to compare the way Syrians treated refugees during recent decades and the way he is treated now in a host country. This is also true even when refugees express their gratitude for neighbouring countries for providing their support at certain levels, and the first essential support is to accept refugees and find them a safe haven to survive.
Asylum as a Burden on Host Countries
Studies conducted by UN entities on world refugee affairs show that refugee distribution map reveals with figures that developing and poor countries share in hosting refugees is much larger than developed countries share, which highlights how poor countries suffer from the economic, financial and social effects of asylum on internal conditions. Efforts made by UN entities do not change this dire reality or alleviate such effects through their programs, whether those which directly care for refugees affairs or those for which special conferences are held under several titles, most famous of which are donor countries conferences where funds are raised to eliminate the effects.
This is not only a result of donor countries default in their commitments, but also a result of many factors associated with the increase in refugees numbers flowing into certain countries especially in armed conflict involving more than one local, regional and international party as well as heightened use of force and persecution against individuals and groups in short periods as we notice this applies to the current Syrian crisis. Others are directly or indirectly associated with warring countries strategies in a region or conflicting powers and groups inside certain country, as confrontations leave no time for individuals and groups to organize and adapt to new situations.
Only looking at Syrian refugee’s distribution across the world and neighbouring countries will emphasize this fact. For example, Lebanon and Jordan share of Syrian refugees is incomparable to other countries including Turkey especially when comparing refugee’s percentage to population in such countries and their economic and developmental capacities.
Moreover, asylum poses a burden as part of international community responsibilities and requires dealing according to international agreements and treaties and the duties of international community led by United Nations and International Security Council.
The fact is that UN and a number of its refugee’s agencies were often unable to address asylum issue effectively and beyond regional and international political and strategic strife. regionally and internationally. Palestinian refugees issue is a vivid example of such failure essentially associated with political and strategic dimensions that were supposed to be ignored to accomplish the desired ISC tasks. Despite all resolutions calling for repatriation of Palestinian refugees to their homes where they were expelled by Israeli occupation, this human tragedy was not solved and was instead deteriorated and Palestinian people suffered even more in neighbouring countries and diaspora, because UN remained unable to enforce its resolutions or require Israel to abide by them. This made many people say that Israel is above international law and that this law was applied to poor countries only.
Such facts made many of those concerned with asylum and associated rights express their fear that Syrian refugees issue would become another Palestinian refugees issue by transforming the issue to political betting regionally and internationally where conflicting powers settle accounts and refugees become a card to manipulate. This will certainly deepen Syrian people suffering instead of putting it to an end.
We can effortlessly prove that manipulating asylum tragedy has become a tangible fact, evidenced by:
1. Attempts to discriminate between displaced and refugees based on their stance towards the Syrian government. Refugees who are believed to be opponent to the government are recognized and not the displaced who are treated as pro-regime. Rights and humanitarian approaches should treat equally all people who were forced to displace or immigrate.
2. Attempts to recruit youth in refugee camps in neighbouring countries to push them to battlefields waged by armed men from different organizations and fronts against the Syrian government, which will have negative effects on these families relations with homelands, because involving those people in a conflict means they never come back again to Syria in the near future and complicates national reconciliation which is still the basis of post-war society.
3. Nature of socialization programs that Syrian children receive in refugee camps, which are almost subject to regional and international powers agendas that pay no heed to education and socialization programs. To the contrary, such agendas oppose Syrian as the case with opposition between Syrian state and those countries. This was evident in different conflicts during the past six years and can be considered an indicator of the complications of asylum issue and implies that plans are developed in this trend.
4. Manipulating refugees bad conditions in some camps, as stated by many media reports to force them towards minor girls trafficking under the cover of marriage to Arab rich men aged up to 70 years. This was condemned by organization concerned with human rights particularly those defending children who must be protected from falling prey to human trafficking organizations that use money seduction to manipulate people suffering from poverty, ignorance and greed of guardians of minors who are ill-treated.
Asylum poses a socio-educational burden given the large numbers of children deprived of education during war years, which will dramatically affect the future of Syrian people as a whole, in areas like education level, vocational rehabilitation, human development where illiteracy is considered an important factor. Undoubtedly, Syrian social conditions at educational level will greatly affect human development indicators and competencies for a group of youth who were deprived of education or were partially educated due to turmoil and disorder in some areas.
Although asylum is an exceptional situation and requires an exceptional approach, where it cannot be treated as a natural phenomenon, there is something in common between asylum and other phenomena: its nature and humanitarian dimension. Asylum is when people are forced to refuge coercively and should be dealt with as people with special needs, which does not imply any particular disability need which may include people who are not necessarily refugees, but could be among them especially in the case of Syria where war has caused injury and permanent disabilities, which requires special care of this category of refugees and displaced alike.
Amnesty’s Proposed Procedures for Solving Refugees Issue
Amnesty International (AI) suggested eight procedures to be immediately taken in order to alleviate world asylum crisis. We can highlight essential procedures as achievable and useful for Syrian refugee’s case, when seriously considered by countries and international organizations concerned in asylum issues at all levels:
The first of these procedures is: Opening up safe routes to sanctuary for refugees, which means allowing people to reunite with their relatives, and giving refugees visas so they do not have to spend their life savings and risk drowning to reach safety.
Obviously, AI observation of threats that endanger refugees to reach a safe country is what motivated the organization to prioritize this procedure. Constraints posed on asylum seekers often expose them to fall prey to trans-continental crime organizations that practice human trafficking.
The third: World leaders also need to put saving lives first. No one should have to die crossing a border, and yet almost 7,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean alone. Blocking asylum natural routes leaves no choice for immigrants but to risk their lives in immigration dangers and illegal routes, including primitive means of transportation by sea, which explains recurrent refugee drowning disasters at the Mediterranean coasts.
The fourth: Whether they travel by land or by sea, people fleeing persecution or wars should be allowed to cross borders, with or without travel documents. Pushing people back and putting up massive fences only forces them to take more dangerous routes to safety. However, this procedure raised a world-wide political controversy, especially in Europe that such procedure will pose security, economic and social risks as it facilitates the spread of terrorist elements in Europe and causes economic pressures as well as open borders risk on population balance in these countries.
It is noteworthy here to recall the crisis resultant from tens of thousands of immigrants flowing into Europe during the past year, causing tensions in the relation between Turkey and EU and different associated financial and political bargains. This transformed a humanitarian issue into a regional and international political issue. At the backdrop of these events, there are undoubtedly economic dimensions.
The fifth: All countries should investigate and prosecute trafficking gangs who exploit refugees and migrants, and put people’s safety above all else. Naturally, initial agreement on this procedure does not mean countries of the world have the sufficient preparedness, especially when there are countries benefitting from this reality and feed flashpoints that will realize their geo-political interests, and humanitarian dimension lags behind in their priorities.
The sixth: Governments also need to stop blaming refugees and migrants for economic and social problems, and instead combat all kinds of xenophobia and racial discrimination. Doing otherwise is deeply unfair, stirs up tensions and fear of foreigners, and sometimes leads to violence, even death.
To sum up, we can reach the following conclusions from a humanitarian perspective of the asylum case:
I. Asylum issue should be confined to the humanitarian level, whether discussed among countries or humanitarian organizations, because tackling the issue outside this common ground will never help in solving it.
II. Focusing on political and strategic dimensions when dealing with asylum turns the issue into a battlefield among concerned countries, instead of considering it a common issue. Humanitarian issue should be dealt as such, and any other treatment especially those based on political and strategic dimensions will only complicate things and turn the issue into battle tools in the hands of those countries.
III. Abiding by resolutions of international legitimacy and the relevant human rights organizations in dealing with asylum issue is the real approach to find the suitable solution to the best of refugees’ material and morale interest. Acting otherwise will be manipulation of a humanitarian issue to realize political gains. The more dominant these considerations are, the more distant the asylum issue from real solution.
IV. Syrian refugees who have become at the centre of regional and international conflict equations for more than six years deserve to be treated on basis other than political or strategic investment, to remain a humanitarian issue and the resultant regional and international commitments. Particularly, the issue should be treated as a temporary issue that requires prompt solutions as a part of a general conception towards a final solution: repatriation of refugees as soon as possible to their homeland Syria.
V. All plans to resettle Syrian refugees and prevent them from returning home are inhumane in their essence, as they prejudice the right of the individual to belong to his nation and homeland which remains an inalienable right. This does not mean preventing any Syrian citizen from choosing his residence and workplace according to international agreements and treaties in this area.
VI. Helping the Syrian government to solve the crisis and provide security and political and social stability and reconstruct what has been destroyed during war years, is the actual translation of sticking to human rights principles and deep philosophy.
After general framing, we will address the Syrian asylum in world map in forms of figures, needs and challenges in our next article.