As everyone knows, what you see depends a lot on where you’re standing. Point-of-view is everything – but it has to be admitted that some standpoints provide a better picture. On a recent visit to New York City, we viewed the metropolis from a boat cruise around Manhattan Island, the top of the Empire State Building, a row-boat on the lake in Central Park, several stations on the subway system and a backstreet or two in Harlem. We didn’t see rats and elderly homeless African Americans everywhere . . . but you get my point.
England’s Daily Mail newspaper ran an article the other day reporting that British holiday-makers on the Greek island of Kos are complaining about ‘disgusting’ conditions caused by large numbers of refugees. ‘Penniless’ Syrians and Afghanis are apparently creating ‘nightmare’ conditions for sun-seeking tourists who ‘won’t be coming back if it’s a refugee camp next year.’
The more reputable Telegraph avoided mentioning the discomfort of holiday-makers, preferring to focus on the complicity of Turkish authorities who are ‘making no attempt to stop’ asylum-seekers from leaving Turkish shores. Their article does at least accept that ‘with austerity biting hard in Greece, many local boat owners and officials are said to be topping up their incomes by either joining the racket or turning a blind eye.’
Well, that’s the UK press. Across the Atlantic, media in the United States were taking a slightly different view. While quoting the Telegraph’s assertion that ‘there has been a surge in migrants arriving on the island recently due to . . . compliant Turkish authorities’ the Washington Post pointed out that ‘the world is in the middle of a full-blown migration crisis’, and was mildly critical of Brits who couldn’t see further than its effect on their summer holiday plans.
In the mean time, Turkey and other more secure and hospitable countries in the region are quietly getting on with the task of dealing with vast inflows of refugees from their war-torn neighbours. The United Nations Refugee Agency has this to say about the situation in Turkey:
Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, Turkey – estimated to host over one million Syrians – has maintained an emergency response of a consistently high standard and declared a temporary protection regime, ensuring non-refoulement and assistance in 22 camps, where an estimated 217,000 people are staying. Turkey is currently constructing two additional camps.
In 2014, Turkey also witnessed an unprecedented increase in asylum applications from Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians. Deteriorating security in Iraq saw a sudden increase in Iraqi refugees: an estimated 81,000 were in Turkey by September 2014, with numbers expected to grow to 100,000 by year-end.
The number of refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey in 2015 is expected to rise to nearly 1.9 million, including 1.7 million Syrian refugees. UNHCR will continue to work closely with the Government of Turkey to support protection measures and facilitate access to public services and assistance available to both Syrian urban refugees and non-Syrian people of concern.
The same source informs us that there are 737,00 asylum-seekers currently in Jordan and more than a million in Lebanon.
The impact of the Syrian crisis – including on the economy, demographics, political instability, and security – continues to deepen across Lebanon. With more than 1.3 million refugees expected by the beginning of 2015, Lebanon’s exceptional hospitality will be extremely stretched.
As the UN Commissioner points out, the civil war in Syria broke out in 2011. Since then, he, and his offsider Angelina Jolie have been appealing to Western countries to share the refugee burden. If the United States government, for example, had channelled half the money it has spent on bombing the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, into rebuilding their shattered economies, that ‘full-blown migration crisis’ might not even be happening. Those British tourists might be able to enjoy their Greek Island holidays without being subjected to the hungry stares of impoverished refugees.
And what about those Turkish authorities who are failing in their duty to deal with the problem on their own turf? The government of Turkey has received much criticism from abroad for its alleged failure to police its border and stop Europeans heading over to join the forces of ISIS/Daesh. You may be interested to know that the country has a 1,673 km border adjoining Iran, Iraq and Syria, much of it unpopulated mountainous territory. Those thousands of refugees mentioned in the UN report just have to walk across. How could you stop them, even if you wanted to? And what has been the response of Western countries to UN appeals for assistance? Most of them want fewer immigrants, not more; and their governments seem to prefer bombing Muslims to seeking more humanitarian solutions.
So Turkey, already struggling to modernise and raise the living standards of its own population, is doing its best to house and feed the new arrivals, and to educate their children. And here are two more geographical facts for you. Turkey has something like 7,500 km of coastline, and some of those Greek islands are no more than two or three km across the water. You could probably swim across, or row a dinghy if you really had a mind to make the crossing.
Those British holiday-makers might want to read a little history. Those ‘Greek’ islands had belonged to the Ottoman Empire since 1522 when they took them from an odd-ball collection of Latin Christians, Venetians, Genoese and crusading knights. In 1912 they were seized by Italy whose neo-Roman imperialist ambitions were cut short by the defeat of Mussolini’s regime in 1943. Germany occupied the islands for the last two years of World War II during which they removed and exterminated the Sephardic Jewish population. After the Allied victory, Britain assumed a ‘protectorate’ over the islands, before handing them over to Greece, ignoring Turkey’s quite reasonable objections. Thus, according to Wikipedia, ‘they were formally united with Greece . . . ending 740 years of foreign rule.’
Once again, there is that glib sentence implying that the modern Kingdom of Greece was entitled to claim unto itself all other lands where the ‘Greek’ language was spoken. Possibly the British were still smarting from their failure to erase Turkey from the world map, and saw this act of generosity as a suitable punishment for those upstart Muslims. Whatever the case, Europe is now suffering the consequences. A ten-minute zip across two km of Aegean Sea is bringing thousands of Middle Eastern refugees into EU territory. If Turkish authorities are in fact turning a blind eye, I can’t say I blame them.
 Not sending them back where they came from
 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees