The photo of the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi on the shore of a Turkish beach captured international headlines and reminded the world of its responsibility in the face of Syria's harrowing refugee crisis. The pathetic sight of Aylan lying face down in the sand has come to symbolise the human cost of the ongoing Syrian conflict that sees no end in sight. The powerful photo has transformed itself into a rallying cry for world leaders to take action for what can be described as one of the worst refugee crises since World War II.
Western leaders reacted with shock and dismay. British Prime Minister David Cameron said that he was “deeply moved” while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “Humanity has drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.”
Some 10 million people have been displaced from their homes in Syria and tens of thousands continue to stream across European borders. Germany has been most generous in terms of taking in refugees by far; around 450,000 refugees have already entered Germany and the number is likely to increase to one million during the course of this year. But unsurprisingly, Germany's open-door policy was reversed when the country re-introduced identity checks within the passport-free Schengen zone and officially closed its borders to refugees. Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic, among other European nations, have also tightened border security. Clashes have been reported at the Hungary-Serbia border between refugees and riot police and Hungary has started fast-track trials of arrested refugees.
With all eyes on the escalating refugee crisis, much of the media seem to be focusing on Europe's dilemma on how to contain this mass influx, and rightfully so. But amidst the discussion of Europe's struggle with the stream of asylum seekers, we mustn't lose sight of the hypocrisy of the world leaders who are now showing reluctance in accepting refugees they have helped create. The same governments responsible for sustaining the destructive civil war in Syria are now balking at the idea of letting asylum seekers cross the border into their country.
The US, UK, France and other EU nations have been at the forefront of backing the armed opposition in Syria while Russia, Iran and North Korea have been staunchly supporting Assad's government. These governments have been heavily involved in providing military and logistic support to Syrian rebels and loyalist forces. While some of these countries have also been providing humanitarian aid, supposedly to restore infrastructure and services for civilians, it is unclear whose hands these funds are ultimately falling into. The involvement of 30+ armed groups like the YPG, Jabhat al-Nusra and IS among several others, and internal divisions within allied forces make things even more complex than they already are.
While David Cameron is being showered with praise for promising to take in some 20,000 refugees and visiting Syrian families at settlement camps on the Syrian-Lebanese border, he is simultaneously shoring up support to bomb IS out of Syria. France, one of the primary providers of military support to the opposition, is under pressure from the far right National Front Party to control immigration. The US, having spent more than $7 billion in weapons to Syrian rebels, has so far taken in only around 1,500 Syrian refugees through its resettlement program. Russia, a primary supplier of weaponry to loyalist forces, has only taken in over only 1,000 refugees so far. Iran, a steadfast supporter of Assad, has taken in zero refugees, just like Israel, a supporter of the rebels. Canada, having spent well over $700 million to arm the opposition, has taken in a little more than 2,000 refugees. Coincidentally, Prime Minister Stephen Harper came under severe criticism when it was reported that Aylan's family had been trying to reach Canada but couldn't because of insufficient documentation needed to certify refugee status. Countries like Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have also come under flak for not doing enough to accommodate refugees when they have been actively playing a part in arming anti-Assad forces. It must be noted though that war-torn Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan are hosting 95 percent of Syrian refugees.
Given the prominent roles these nations have in reducing the once thriving Middle Eastern country to rubble and displacing millions in the process, it is nothing short of hypocrisy for them to essentially demand refugees to respect their borders when they had no qualms about invading Syria's border. Every single country who has had a part in the war must take responsibility of its pro-war hysteria – disguised as a hypocritical moral attempt to establish democracy in Syria – which paved the way for the unparalleled suffering of the people some of these very countries are now refusing to let in. Their failure to adequately fund the squalid refugee camps housing thousands of refugees is appalling. The dominant rhetoric that suggests that world governments are all responsible for the rehabilitation of these refugees is hogwash. There is no question that some are more responsible than others, simply because of their complicity in the systematic destruction of Syria through criminal policies of regime change intervention and aggressive war in the sovereign nation.
In the same way bombing an oil-rich country is part of what is called "counter-terrorism strategy", the thousands of refugees pouring into Europe are insensitively being called "migrants" in the media and by European officials. The difference between a migrant and a refugee lies in the simple concept of choice. It is as if the thousands of Syrian refugees are risking their lives across dangerous stretches of the Mediterranean and Aegean out of choice; as if these people are inherently suicidal. They aren't "economic migrants" as they are being called on many news outlets but victims of a disaster brought about by destructive and deceitful "humanitarian" interventionist policies designed to serve parochial interests.
Governments responsible for the forced displacement of the Syrian people owe it to the latter to provide them with refuge. Instead of playing the blame game and continuing the asylum charade which is now dominating media outlets, these powers must acknowledge responsibility and take action to stem the flow of desperate refugees risking their lives further. Hopefully, it won't take the sorry sight of another lifeless toddler lying face down to prompt the world leaders responsible for this catastrophe into action, because it is already too late.
The writer is a journalist at The Daily Star.