By Shivani Chimnani:
In the summer of 2015, Europe witnessed the largest influx of refugees since World War II. Millions of Syrian refugees, to escape the brutalising civil war regime, fled their country to find peace and harmony. The inception of the problem dates back to 2011. Owing to the Arab Spring, the totalitarian regimes in several parts of the Arab region were challenged and attempts were made in different regions of the Middle East and Northern Africa to topple such a regime. The Al-Assad family in Syria refused to step down. In the midst of this insurgency, ISIS, a jihadist militant group took advantage of such war-torn conditions and headed towards the belligerent occupation of the Syrian territory with the objective of establishing an Islamic caliphate in Syria. Today, the ISIS is deemed to be the most savage, destructive extremist organisation on Earth.
The Syrian civilian population was trapped amidst ceaseless violent feuds between the government, the rebel groups and religious extremists. They lost all hopes of a stable regime in their home country and resorted to their sole chance of having a normal life, escaping to the west. They were in search of a safe home and hearth, basic employment opportunities and most importantly, peace. It was a time when humans were to unite to help humans live peacefully away from the scourge of war but were instead abandoned and treated in the most slavish and horrifying manner. They expected a smidgen of welcome and sympathy after escaping the horrors of war and terror but were instead persecuted, starved, kicked at and treated in dreadfully. The West comprising of the apparently civilised nations with strong economies and resources to support such migrant population remained averse to them.
Europe reaching an impasse regarding the refugee problem resorted to trading refugee lives. The European Union entered a deal with Turkey so that “irregular migrants” from Greece would be relocated back to Turkey in return of a one-for-one basis for Syrian refugees being sent back the European Union member states. This meant that a Syrian refugee on the Greek Islands would be returned to Turkey in exchange for a Syrian asylum seeker would, in turn, be accepted by Europe. The European United assured to give Turkey significant financial aid, visa-free travel of several Turkish citizens around the Schengen region and accelerate talks of Turkey’s admission into the European Union. In March 2016, stomping over all moral obligations and despite severe criticism, the deal was implemented.
Human rights groups have strongly criticised the deal, with Amnesty International accusing the EU of turning “its back on a global refugee crisis, and willfully ignoring its international obligations.” Several rights groups, as well as the UN refugee agency, noted that the concept was illegal. When the deal was first announced, the campaigners were outraged because it would involve the “blanket return” of all asylum seekers without assessing their individual claims, something that Europe had promised to uphold under the terms of the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention and its own legislation. Several doubts had also been raised concerning Turkey not being a safe place for Syrian refugees as it did not guarantee the refugees adequate protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention. Moreover, Turkey did not easily grant Syrians the right to work. In several cases, it had even illegally forced Syrians to return to Syria. There is evidence already suggesting maltreatment of Syrian refugees in Turkey.
The subject of deliberation and controversy is that of commodifying human lives. Paying Turkey a sizeable sum for taking in refugees defies the entire concept of a country’s moral obligations of helping those seeking refuge. It seems to be a way of buying out of the problem. It further stifles human hopes and aspirations of those who escape their countries and risk their lives in hope of a better future. A wholesale return of refugees from one country to another is prima facie inhuman and immoral.
A counter argument presented against this is that of the burden being placed solely on Europe to address the mammoth refugee crisis, which is rather lopsided. The European Union cannot be expected to be responsible for over 4 million refugees and the aspect of shared moral responsibility ought to be considered globally. Moreover, it is argued that having open borders or allowing refugees to choose their nation of settlement would not be pragmatic and give rise to further problems.
The philosophical dilemma which dominates this entire situation is whether it is morally permissible to treat and regard refugees as tradable or is this morally incorrect. On one hand, it corrupts the meaning of a refugee by treating it as a commodity which can be traded with. On the contrary, it is argued to be a pragmatic and realist solution to the problem. Does the concept of trading refugees abide by the virtues of international morality or is it grossly unacceptable and loathsome? The question still lingers.
The most favoured opinion has been against the deal. In reality, we are practically trading human lives, which is a reprehensible thing for a civilised and progressed world to undertake. A human life is not an object. Moreover, the refugees had faced many obstacles of reaching the escape destination. Several died in the process and for what? To be sent back?
The Refugee Crisis is undoubtedly a great challenge for the world at large but a nation’s sensitization towards the entire situation could be the first step towards resolving it. Nations ought to be generous in accepting refugees especially if they have the land and resources to support them. A majority of Western countries besides Europe have agreed to accept only a minuscule of the refugee population despite having adequate resources to support more rendering several refugees helpless. Abdicating religious prejudices could perhaps be the second. Several Western countries have been unwilling to accept refugees on the basis of social and religious prejudices. We need to understand that refugees are normal people like us except the fact that they are not entitled to half the privileges we are and that they have escaped a war which most of us haven’t even encountered. The last and perhaps the most compelling reason for helping refugees is that for the sake of humanity. If we perceive them as being ordinary humans who are children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters of someone, perhaps that would knock some empathy into our heads. They ought to be saved, taken care of and not maltreated and traded for the simple cause of humanity and rescuing our fellow humans. After all, “we were all humans until race disconnected us, religion separated us, politics divides us and wealth classified us.”