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All You Need To Know About The Syrian War And Why Europe Is Refusing To Help Refugees

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By Shivani Chimnani:

Syrian refugees
Source: Reuters

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.

The Migrant- Asylum Seeker Exchange Deal

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.

Wide Scale Criticism

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 Ethics Of The Deal

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 Bitter Truth

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.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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