Barry Andrews: We need to focus on Syria to address migrant crisis in EU

‘How this pressure point is dealt with could define EU politics for a decade’

 Migrants, mostly from Syria, prepare for registration at a facility of the German Federal Police (Bundespolizei) on September 1st,  in Deggendorf, Germany. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Migrants, mostly from Syria, prepare for registration at a facility of the German Federal Police (Bundespolizei) on September 1st, in Deggendorf, Germany. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 

The war in Syria is in its fifth year and shows no sign of ending. The downstream consequence of this are being seen on the shores of EU, and this week, right up through the union. It would be incredibly short-sighted if EU leaders focused only on the logistical challenges associated with the inward movement of refugee populations and failed to put some fresh energy into finding a political and diplomatic resolution to the humanitarian catastrophe of our generation.

For the past four-and-a-half years Syrians have tried to sit it out, either staying in neighbouring countries (Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon) or moving to safer parts of Syria.

However, sitting and waiting is no longer enough for many thousands of Syrians.

This is because of the protracted nature of the conflict, the sense that it is a low priority internationally, and the effective control of the country by the twin tyrannies of Assad and Jihadists. Much and all as they love their country, they have finally decided that it is time to move on; and to prioritise the education of their children no matter what risks are involved. And those risks are considerable.

Aid agency Goal set up operations in Syria in October 2012. Our programme there has since become the largest in our history. By supporting populations within the borders we are indirectly reducing the pressure on neighbouring countries. In turn, these neighbouring countries have hosted very large numbers of refugees in recent years (conservatively estimated at two million in Turkey, 1.1 million in Lebanon and 600,000 in Jordan).

Pressures

The first pressure point is Syria itself. It might be too much to hope for some coherent response from the UN Security Council in terms of either the resolution of the conflict or the protection of civilian populations. Goal has reluctantly called for “no-fly-zones” to bring an end to the barrel bombs that have caused so much carnage. Failing any initiatives of this sort, we have to continue to support the provision of humanitarian aid into Syria itself.

Meanwhile, the UN appeal for countries to fund the humanitarian side has fallen woefully short. Currently the UN appeal for 2015 is a mere 32 per cent funded.

The second pressure point is neighbouring countries, which have borne the brunt of the population movements . The Turkish government realises that many of the Syrians currently living in Turkey will probably never return home, and, rather than allow ghettoisation, is providing basic social services, particularly health and education, with a view to integrating these groups into Turkish society.

However, even those who are in refugee camps are now subject to rationing, after the World Food Programme was forced to cut food rations by 50 per cent because of a shortfall in funding. The final pressure point is now in the EU and, sadly, the one that has forced the issue on to the agenda. Thousands of people are taking to boats and paying traffickers to get them to the EU. It is not a clear-cut situation. As our chief operating officer, Jonathan Edgar has said, while most of the people travelling to Kos are Syrians, there are also economic migrants from Bangladesh, India and elsewhere mixing in with the refugees.

Immigration

In May 2015, the EU agreed a resettlement programme for 20,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. This resettlement programme is the only official EU response, which is a “head in the sand” approach when you consider that 66,000 Syrians crossed EU borders in 2014 alone.

However, even if a moral perspective doesn’t inform a more open policy on accommodating refugees, enlightened self-interest should ensure that policy makers put much greater emphasis on Syria and its neighbouring countries, to alleviate pressure on the EU.

What the future holds is difficult to predict.

If, say, the Assad government falls, the movement of Syrians out of the country will metastasize and the scenes we have witnessed so far will seem paltry in comparison.

While the humanitarian need in Syria and the surrounding countries grows, the paucity of the political response from the international community to this crisis becomes ever more apparent.

Barry Andrews is CEO of Goal

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