Western hypocrisy is at the root of the refugee crisis

When Cold War politics plunged many Middle Eastern and African countries into conflict and poverty, the West has a duty to take in the people who flee.

COMMENTA couple of weeks ago, I went to a talk on the refugee crisis hosted by Trinity’s Society for International Affairs (SOFIA) where one of the speakers was a young man who happened to be a Syrian refugee.  Although I had already been quite aware of the crisis going on and was very frustrated by it all, I had never really felt so deeply about it as I did after hearing him tell his story. I think it was the fact that he was standing right in front of us and telling us about incredibly shocking events that he had been through which made the problem very intense and real to me. I came away from the evening feeling slightly emotional but mainly just very angry at the world.

Yes, this is another article on that refugee crisis that has been going on since 2012, because you know what, it’s still going on and I don’t think we should stop rattling on about it until it is solved. This is not a matter of moving on as soon as the story gets old; this is a humanitarian crisis that should stay at the forefront of the world news until we actually do something about it.

Can we just take a moment to acknowledge the fact that Turkey has taken in as many Syrian refugees in three days as Europe has in three years? That is incredibly embarrassing. It baffles me that those who claim to be the “Liberal West” and place so much value on the rights and freedoms of individuals can still be so hypocritical in violating the rights of the ones who need it most right now.

Why is it that countries like Lebanon, Iran and Jordan have been the ones to accept most of the refugee population, when the Middle East is generally known in Western media for its corrupt governments, lack of human rights and generally appalling behaviour? It seems very odd that the West, who see themselves as so much more civilised and hold themselves in a much higher regard, would be lacking so much compassion and decency.

It seems that anyone outside the Northern hemisphere is completely disregarded, always deemed as less of a priority. It seems that when the going gets tough, the West will be the first to criticise and condemn but always the last to actually get their hands dirty. Why is that? Are we so stuck up our own asses and so academically advanced and superior that we can’t actually engage in any sort of action that may mean our pretty cities might be shaken up a little?

It is not very often that the West have to feel the heat of global problems like mass poverty or war. We have become quite desensitised to things like cities being torn apart through violence, or thousands of kids wandering around streets, starving, on the verge of death. Sure, it’s bad and all, and sure, you’ll feel a little sad once in a while, but all those problems are so far away from us that it becomes way too easy to forget that it is a reality for millions of people. And it really irks me that when those who need help the most are literally at our doors, pleading for assistance, we have the audacity to turn them away. If you are unsure as to what I am getting at, I mean the thousands of refugees trying to get to Europe but being drowned in the process.

Cold War hangovers

So, where are all these refugees coming from? Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia are the top three countries where the majority of refugees have fled from, each having around a million displaced people or more. This raises an interesting point: why are these countries such a mess in the first place?

Through my reading of Cold War foreign policy, there seems to be a strikingly clear correlation that each of these three countries, and probably a lot of others where refugees are coming from, have a history of US-USSR intervention. Essentially, these countries have been the unfortunate victims of rivalries of great powers. Historically, most Middle-Eastern or African countries have at some point been used as tools to further the means of the US or USSR.

Let us take Afghanistan. During the 1970s it was basically an “ideological battleground” for the US and USSR. The US saw this as a Cold War power struggle issue and used it as a chance to get back at the USSR in retaliation for Vietnam. The result was devastating violence, war and the rise of the Taliban.

In Syria, Russia was backing the Assad regime for geo-strategic reasons, to secure a foothold in the Middle-East. The US disproved of this and did not want Russia to succeed for their own strategic purposes. The result was violence, war and the rise of ISIS.

You can see a pattern here. Why is it that before the rise of a terrorist group, the US or Russia always seem to have been there first? Furthermore, the reason these countries are in turmoil now is as a direct result of terrorist groups seizing way too much power. Call me a crazy conspiracist, but I don’t think it’s a complete coincidence.

Fast forward to the present, the country is in shambles. The civilians are sick of it and decide to leave and come seek refuge in the prosperous West. The West feels no responsibility to these foreigners and tell them to go away.

This has happened repeatedly in numerous countries in the Middle East and Africa. I would not say that this is the only reason that these countries are in chaos, but it has a pretty damn big impact. It is a very unsettling observation that should not be ignored. Essentially, I believe these countries are owed some sort of compensation for their destruction. Allowing them to seek refuge in the West seems like a small and minor price to pay.

The least we owe

I would agree that a considerable amount of progress has been made, eg provisions being made to help refugees in countries like Germany and Italy and others. There is also a large social movement of people, the “Refugees Welcome” campaign, which is proving to be effective. I still would say a lot more can be done, and should have been done sooner. The fact that there are still people or countries that will not accept refugees is an abhorrent problem that needs to be rectified.

Historically, we owe these people. The actions Western nations took in the past toward these countries have played a crucial role in the vastness of the crisis. I think the least we can do is provide them with safety and an equal quality of life until their countries have recovered.

We sometimes forget that it is hurting refugees’ lives more than ours when they have to flee their countries. These people did not choose to be uprooted and to put their lives on hold because of something completely outside their control. Nor is it our choice to deny these people their right to survive and prosper. Any sane or half-decent human can see that.