In a comment he made after visiting refugee camps recently, in the company of a US senator, in Turkey and some other locations, singer Bono said that the refugee problem is not only an African or a Middle-eastern problem, but a European problem and American problem as well. He is due to depone before the US Congress on the issue shortly, but the responses to his comment have not generally been supportive of his opinion.
Some have squarely referred to him as a tax-dodger from Ireland, others have queried the worth of his opinion as he is a mere musician unaware of the realities of a very difficult and complex situation, still others have asked why should it be their problem and not that of the countries and regions where the refugees are coming from.
The refugees, as rightly noted by one blogger, need jobs, education, training, housing: exactly the same needs as that of the people of the countries they are flocking to. As it is, several European countries are facing social and economic crises of their own – including youth unemployment in particular –, and their politicians and governments are not able to meet even their expectations in terms of these very same needs: how are they going to fulfill those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees that are already there and those that have not stopped coming? That is the big question that worries the indigenous populations of Europe — and who can gainsay them or deny that their worries and fears are as genuine as those of the refugees?
This brings one, therefore, to the issue of what is pushing these refugees out of their own countries, in the present case Syria mainly, but also Libya, Iraq, some north African countries. The short answer is the ongoing wars and conflicts in those countries. As much as it can be accepted, as several analysts have already pointed out, that American interventionism abetted or aided by the UK in the Middle East and Afghanistan have created the conditions that have led to the warring and conflicts there, that surely cannot be the whole answer.
In Syria, for example, there is more likely an ethnic/sectarian origin to the problem: the fact that the ruling regime, entrenched from the time of Assad senior, father of the current President Bashar-al-Assad, belongs to the minority Alawite community which has been in control of the military, and also occupied key posts in the government. This has led to the long-standing resentment of the population against the Assad regime, and the advent of Isis has only complicated matters further.
Bashar-al-Assad has literally presided over the destruction and dismemberment of his country and the massacre of his own people, nearly 350,000 of them – as the leader of his country, he surely is responsible and accountable for all its citizens? – who have therefore had no other option than to flee. The second round of talks to try and get peace to return in Syria has just begun in Geneva, following the cease-fire that was agreed upon a few weeks ago. However, the initial interregnum was not sustained, and attacks continued albeit to a lesser degree – and the talks are being held against this background.
In Iraq it has been Sunni versus Shia, who make up the majority of the population. Saddam Hussein was Sunni and after his toppling the civil war there has pitched these two sections of the population against each other in repeated attacks. Official America has acknowledged that it did not anticipate the mayhem that would follow the fall of Saddam Hussein and therefore had no ready strategy or plan about how to tackle the consequences that followed.
The scenario of ethnic, sectarian and religious infighting with power politics grafted on it is repeated in the ‘source’ countries of the fleeing refugees. The question that may reasonably be asked is: why can’t the political, religious and ethnic leaders of these countries come together to stop their warring and the killing of their innocent populations? Why do they need the mediation of the West to act as intermediaries to drive a peace process – which should have been their initiative for a start? So many such peace talks have been held before, all to no avail.
We do realise that this may sound simplistic, but it is plain horse sense that they should put their religious and sectarian differences apart, take a hard and realistic look at the harm they are inflicting on their very own kind, and sincerely and genuinely engage in dialogue among themselves to begin with, to bring about the necessary conditions for their suffering people to return to their motherlands and start building their lives all over again. It will no doubt be easier to do so in an environment with which they are familiar instead of in a foreign one. Besides, this has been the express wish of so many of these refugees.
But we do know too that there is no easy or quick solution. Indeed, the American billionaire and entrepreneur George Soros, writing in ‘Social Europe’, has proposed a plan of containment that would allow a more sustainable influx into Europe over several years, and thus give time for adjustments. But this requires funding, and he admits that it is political will that is inhibiting the materialization of a concrete, viable solution to the crisis that is affecting a Europe which itself is battling with its own demons and insecurities. We can only wait and see.
* Published in print edition on 15 April 2016