War and the widespread growth of terrorism in Syria have been devastating to families who say they just want to live in peace. The constant fear of death has forced over four million of them to leave their homes to take on long and dangerous journeys to other countries where they seek asylum. Some unfortunately die during their escape, including by attempting dangerous crossing by sea in homemade boats, by unsuccessfully trying to board and stay on moving trains, or by the terrible conditions they face in temporary detention camps.
Many counties are struggling to deal with the sheer number of migrants attempting to cross their borders. Some of them are welcoming them, while others are turning them away or limiting the number who will gain entry. All of these countries are faced with answering the same questions both internally to their citizens and externally to the rest of the world: should they take refugees or send them home, how do they determine whether a person seeking asylum is qualified to enter, and how many can they take without causing a burden on their own welfare systems and/or causing internal conflict. If they decide to allow migration and determine the number, they must specifically determine how to screen them, house and feed them, and often they must make these difficult decisions while thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of refugees are waiting at their borders.
In the article “Norway seeking to return some Syrian asylum seekers to Russia” (Solsvik and Fouche for Reuters, Oct 15, 2015), the authors report that according to the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, 1,200 people have attempted to seek asylum in Norway from Syria in 2015, which is a huge increase over the dozen or so who asked for asylum in 2014. The article states “the journey is a more roundabout, but legal, and safer, way to enter Europe than by crossing the Mediterranean”.
According to Reuters, many of the asylum seekers are in fact not at risk of being killed if they return to their home countries because, in fact, they are coming from Russia where they have lived for a long time and have the freedom to return. The article states that Justice Minister Anders Anundsen of the anti-immigration party, told public broadcaster NRK “they have had a safe place to be in Russia. We have had a return agreement with Russia and we should use it,”
The article, “Why Don’t Gulf States Accept More Refugees?” (Bershidsky, Sept 4, 2015) discusses the reasons behind the apparent unwillingness of Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf countries, to accept Syrian refugees. Regarding Saudi Arabia, the article states that while the country has in fact welcomed almost 500,000 Syrians to live in the country, there is no record that they are refugees. Instead they could have migrated legally prior to the conflict in Syria. Also, 500,000, while appearing to be a large number, is small compared with the total population of Saudi Arabia’s thirty-one million residents. This number is also very low in comparison to Lebanon, which has allowed more than 1.3 million refugees into their borders, representing over a quarter of their population. The article also addresses the fact that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has also resisted allowing Syrian refugees to enter their country. Instead they “prefer to pay to equip and maintain refugee camps in other countries, close to Syrian borders.”
Bershidsky explains that the reason for the actions of Saudia Arabia and the UAE are that a majority of the Syrians seeking asylum are Sunni Muslims. While the Saudi population is also predominantly Sunni, “many Sunni areas of Syria have served as a base for the Islamic State, which the Saudi and U.A.E. air forces are helping to bomb. The Islamic State is hostile to the Saudi regime, and it’s important to them whether the refugees are fleeing Islamic State or the bombings.” In other words, they want to make sure that they are not welcoming their enemy into their borders. Egypt has also been concerned that Syrians entering their country have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is their enemy. As such, Egypt has limited entry to Syrians as well as deported some of them.
The article also discusses that in Lebanon and Turkey where Syrian refugees have been granted asylum, there have been conflicts, resentment, fear and the potential for violence among various other religious groups and the Syrians. In some cases, Syrian refugees have been relocated to other parts of the country to avoid conflict.
After explaining the difficulties with relocating Syrians in the Gulf countries, the author argues that it makes more sense for the refugees to be welcomed into European countries as well as the United States where they would make up a very small percentage of the existing population. The author then unbelievably states, “jihadists posing as migrants might, of course, conduct terrorist attacks, but that risk exists without refugees.” Finally, Bershidsky claims that the humanitarian policies of the West, as well as a more even distribution of wealth, have a “calming effect” on immigration as compared with asking refugees to live in countries where “their presence could turn an unsteady equilibrium into chaos”. He concludes his article by stating that the United States and Europe should not use the Gulf state’s resistance to allowing Syrian migration as an excuse to also limit the number of refugees these countries take.
In “Australia’s Brutal Treatment of Migrants” (Editorial Board of the New York Times, Sept 3, 2015), the author discusses Australia’s policies toward asylum seekers, which include sending the navy to intercept boats filled with refugees and making them turn back to wherever they sailed from. The article states that those who are not turned away from the borders are kept in poorly maintained detention centers run by private contractor on nearby islands. An “Australian Senate committee portrayed the Nauru center as a purgatory where children are sexually abused, guards give detainees marijuana in exchange for sex and some asylum seekers are so desperate that they stitch their lips shut in an act of protest.” The Editorial Staff asserts that instead of fixing the detention center problems, they have tried to hide the problems, including by threatening criminal prosecution for speaking publicly about the conditions.
The editorial concludes by stating that refugees will naturally seek to rebuild their lives in countries that are prosperous and “it is inexcusable that some find themselves today in situations that are more hopeless and degrading than the ones that prompted them to flee.”
These articles may be compared and contrasted in many ways. For example, all of the articles point out the complexity of the refugee problem and, in particular, the incredibly difficult decisions the governments need to make in deciding how to handle requests for asylum from so many people that are showing up at their borders. While the article, “Norway seeking to return some Syrian asylum seekers to Russia” is very factual about the situation that exists in Norway without making any opinions or recommendations, both the articles, “Why Don’t Gulf States Accept More Refugees?” and the “Australia’s Brutal Treatment of Migrants” seek to make a point about how other countries need to do more or just do better. The Norway article and the Australia article are also similar in that they both discuss their country’s decision to turn away refugees, although for different reasons.
In my opinion, while it is the responsibility of a civilized society to provide help and assistance to our fellow man when they are in need, especially when fleeing a country where there is a strong possibility of death, countries have the right to limit the number of immigrants they allow into their borders for a number of reasons, including national security, social and logistical reasons. Additionally, only those refugees who are truly at risk of death in their own country should be allowed to enter a country and be given food, shelter, medicine and other services and countries should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the process of determining who deserves to enter the country are followed, even if it means taking time to evaluate each person and situation.
“Norway seeking to return some Syrian asylum seekers to Russia” (Solsvik and Fouche for Reuters, Oct 15, 2015)
“Why Don’t Gulf States Accept More Refugees?” (Bershidsky, Sept 4, 2015)
“Australia’s Brutal Treatment of Migrants” (Editorial Board of the New York Times, Sept 3, 2015)