It’s not every day I find myself in agreement with the Pope of Rome, so let this go down in history as one of those days. The holy gentleman was reported as taking the international community to task for ‘not doing its part to alleviate the hardships faced in the war-torn countries of the Middle East such as Iraq and Syria.’ He went on to exempt Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan from his criticism, acknowledging that those countries ‘are bearing the brunt of the refugees, and hosting them generously.’ Pope Francis was speaking at a fundraising meeting organized by Cor Unum, the charitable outreach arm of the papacy.
Well, I’m pleased to learn that the papacy has a charitable outreach arm, and delighted to hear it’s called Cor Unum, which means ‘One Heart’ in Latin. It’s probably not every day that the Pope finds himself in agreement with Bob Marley – so that’s another one for the history books. Hear the children crying!
The same article reported that Germany’s Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was visiting Turkey ‘to discuss ways of cooperation on dealing with the refugee crisis the two countries are facing.’ So that’s another thing I’m pleased about. The big guns of the European Union are finally recognizing that there’s a crisis, and it’s only taken them four years.
It’s easy to be cynical. Sudden interest in the question of refugees from Syria in particular on the part of EU countries seems to have coincided with a large influx into their territory over the summer months. The flood of humanity has long since exceeded Turkey’s ability to provide basic necessities of life in camps near its border with Syria. Taking advantage of Turkey’s proximity to Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, some of which are as close as four km away, thousands of asylum seekers have made the crossing in inflatable rubber boats. From there, many have continued their trek northwards to Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and France.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced her country’s readiness to accept 800,000 by the end of this year – if they can get there. The EU has offered one billion euros to help Turkey’s government meet the costs of caring for the two million men, women and children who have fled into the country since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011. The aid, however, is conditional on Turkey’s complying with ‘guidelines set forth by the EC, including the profiling of all refugees that enter the country for easy identification, should they ever face deportation by European Union officials.’ Quite a task, to ‘profile’ two million homeless, jobless people, requiring considerable expense in itself, before any money is paid over.
Possibly French President, François Hollande was more courageous in expressing the feeling of many EU citizens and politicians when he argued that the refugees should be kept in Turkey. Just how he proposes to do that is another question. One of the reasons given for the increased numbers heading for Greece is that Turkish authorities put a stop to ‘ghost ships’ ferrying migrants to Italy. Apparently opportunist entrepreneurs, aka people-traffickers, were buying dilapidated freighters from scrapyards, filling them with refugees (at $1,500 to $8,000 per head), pointing them in the direction of Italy, and sending them on their way with no crew on board.
Some have accused Greek coastguard vessels of deliberately puncturing inflatable boats leaving those on board to swim, sink, or be rescued by Turkish vessels. Hungary has already erected a 175 km razor wire fence along its border with Serbia, and is working on extending it to control access from Romania. According to an article in The Independent, ‘Hungary is to split up families found illegally crossing its borders following state of emergency declarations in two of its southern counties.
Any minor found without the correct documents will be taken from their parents and placed in “children’s institutions”.
Meanwhile the parents will be put in one of two holding areas called “transit zones” while they await trial for illegally crossing the border – a crime now punishable with a prison sentence.’
As for Great Britain, or the United Kingdom, or England, or whatever they call themselves these days, Prime Minister David Cameron announced back in June that his government was looking at reinforcing its border controls around the French port of Calais to stop illegal migrants trying to reach his country. In the interests of common humanity, his government had already ‘invested’ 12 million pounds on border protection, and was ‘happy’ to spend more if needed.
A more recent article in The Guardian quoted The Daily Mail as saying, ‘We kept out Hitler; why can’t our feeble leaders keep out a few thousand exhausted migrants?’ The writer, Owen Jones (sounds Welsh, God bless him) pointed out that ‘Earlier this year, Britain had taken in only 143 Syrian refugees: since the civil war began, Germany has taken in around 100,000 . . . [A]s the UNHCR points out, 86% of all refugees are in developing countries. About one in four refugees are from Syria: 95 out of every 100 of them are in a neighbouring country. Turkey – whose GDP per capita is about four times less than that of Britain – hosts more than any other country. Lebanon, which has a population of less than 4.5 million, has up to 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Countries with far fewer resources than Britain are taking in many more refugees.’
According to a report in the New York Times (15 August), so far this year there had been 134,988 arrivals in Greece and 93,540 in Italy. In the mean time, tiny Jordan (population 6.5 million) is struggling to cope with 630,000 registered Syrian refugees. That’s a ratio of one fleeing migrant for every ten Jordanian citizens. Germany’s offer works out at one per hundred Germans – still pretty generous. That figure of 143 quoted by the Guardian writer means one refugee per 7,000 Brits! Hope that doesn’t put too much pressure on their budget in the current fiscal year.