Saturday, March 12, 2016

Refugee Crisis

By Stephen Wilson

The Syrian refugee crisis has become an explosive political all over the world!
(Moscow, Russia) -- In many Russian folk-tales, the hero setting out on a quest, always 'goes for a long time or a short time', 'high or low', and  'a long distance or short distance to 'a certain land'. All the references are always vague inexact and indefinite and time and space assume such a surreal dimension as to appear 'unreal'. And in one tale, Prince Ivan and the Firebird, the hero reaches a crossroads confronting him with four inescapable and uneviable choices: Go this way and wolves will devour you, go this way and you will freeze or get hungry, go that way and you 'll fail, and go
back and wolves will eat your horse.

               This folk tale reminds you of the plight of so many refugees, in Russia and all over Europe. Whatever choice they make in travelling, they face an intense predicament; go one way they face hunger, another way fences, another cold and another; to go back, be bombed or persecuted.

               The unfolding dramatic flood of refugees into Europe appeared so unanticipated that it took on the aspects of a dream. Thousands of refugees were landing, recovering then trampling off all over Europe.

               According to the International Organisation For Migration, there are over a million refugees in Europe and the United Nations estimates that a further 850,000 refugees are expected to reach Europe soon.  This seems to be a conservative estimate. A survey in 2015, put the figures of refugees of Syria in September 2015 at 7.6 million and many are attempting to get to Europe.

               Whereas in 2013, 60,000 braved the Mediterranean sea, in 2014 it reached 219,000 and in 2015, 322,500. Approximately 3000 may be dead and missing.

               What has been the European response to this crisis? In recent days it has been to close the borders leaving 42,000 stranded in Greece, as well as to close a refugee camp in Calais, which they call 'the jungle', as if refugees are not human beings.

               Most countries are attempting to evade responsibility by shifting the weight of the problem on to another country making a mockery of the whole concept of a united Europe. More outspoken refugees have raised placards with the words: 'Where is our freedom? Where are our human rights?'

               The proposed deportation of refugees back to countries such as Russia, or Syria, almost certainly means 'death ' of a sort.

               The sheer ignorance about the plight of refugees, perpetuated by some parts of the media  seems so  childish, and crude that one wonders at the incredulity, deep prejudices and ignorance of people.

               Despite the fact that the vast majority of refugees are worn out, sick and desperate women and children, they are described as 'potential terrorists', 'criminals' , 'rapists' and 'spongers'. Even a channel such as Euro-News labels refugees, 'migrants', misleading viewers into believing those refugees just arrived in Europe for purely economic reasons. Yet there is a crucial distinction. Refugees are fleeing because of a real threat to their lives from either carpet bombing, the government of Islam, and the Syrian 

government itself.


               What do Russians think of this crisis? Many Russians claim that Europe, along with America, created the refugee problem. American, British and European war planes have been carrying out thousands of sorties which has led to the innocent deaths of many civilians in not only Syria, but Afghanistan. During the Arab Spring, the American and British military forces helped overthrow the Libyan government and Russians keep reminding the west about the invasion of Iran in 2003. Even Trump, an extreme   Republican, accused the Foreign Secretary of fostering failed
states all over the Arab world. Then the Russians did what they had been criticising the Americans for; bombing and killing innocent civilians and forcing them to flee as refugees from more towns.

               Nevertheless, some Russians I met are puzzled as to why they have sent planes to bomb Syria. "I don't understand why we are getting involved in a new war in Syria? What has this got to do with us?" one manager at a food company in Moscow told me.

               Although some surveys indicate that most Russians sympathise with the refugees, (61%), as in Europe and America, there is much antipathy to refugees. In fact, many Russians told me that Europe has been too soft on the refugees and should summarily repress, imprison or carry
out mass deportations. An economist called Alexi, told me : "I think the German chancellor Merkel has gone mad. I mean posing with a Syrian child, in front of cameras will entice more refugees to come to Germany. It would be like Putin posing with a child from Chechnya, which would be tantamount to political suicide. I visited Germany on a business trip and heard how the Germans were not too happy with Merkel's attitude to refugees."

               A school boy told me, "To hell with those refugees. They should all be deported".

               It is interesting to note that part of Trump's popularity in Russia may be explained by his hard-line attitude to refugees and migrants.

               A more thoughtful Russian language teacher who works at a kindergarten told me, " I don't see how it is possible to technically mass deport all those refugees from Europe, back to where they came from. There are just so

               Nevertheless, sound reasons have been presented for offering both migrants and refugees the right to not only asylum but work. Firstly, Europe is dying and there are huge shortages of labour  brought about by an abundance of elderly. Over the past decades, Europe is becoming a place of old people and there are less younger people to take care of them. 

               Secondly, Europe lacks many badly needed talents, skills and drive which the refugees have in abundance. However, perhaps this is besides the point.

               Of course, the main consideration for granting refugees a place is humanitarian as it is the natural and normal thing for any decent person to do.

               Though many Russians have criticised the response of the European state to the plight of refugees, the response to the refugees during the war in Ukraine was far from commendable. The vast majority of refugees could not obtain even application forms for applying for status, never
mind residential rights. In fact, we interviewed refugees who claimed they were being charged exorbitant fees for residential rights which should legally be granted free of charge. The city of Moscow practically refused to allow
refugees to take up accommodation or work within the city. As a result, many refugees were living 'illegally' in Moscow. So you have an absurd situation, where Russians were living illegally in Russia!  Now if the Russian state treats its own  people, who are refugees, shamefully, then it is hardly         surprising to find recent cases of Syrians being detained in camps and being threatened with deportation. Only the last year, a Syrian family who turned up in Moscow with a legitimate passport and visa were denied entry into Russia on the spurious grounds that their passport issued by a Syrian embassy, was false. They were forced to retreat
into the transit zone of an airport where they fell gravely ill.

               Russian officials were on the brink of deporting three Syrian refugees until the European Court of Human rights ordered the Russians to free them and receive compensation for ill treatment. The court concluded that Russian officials had violated articles 2 (the right to life) and 3 (prohibition of Torture and of inhuman or degrading 


               However, there are some Russians who are holding up a torch for the refugees. What is more, their efforts have paid off. This newspaper previously reported that civil assistance, had successfully fought and secured the rights of refugee children to a school education which had     previously been denied at some schools by order 32.

               Recently, I heard of a story where a young school girl of 15, Amal Azzudin, from Glasgow, helped release her school friend who had been detained in a detention centre following a dawn raid of her family. All it took was for Amal and six of her classmates to petition and campaign for her release.

               The detained family were Roma from Kosova and were threatened with deportation. But the Scottish authorities backed down after many Scots rallied to support their release! 

               Amal Azzudin has grown up and currently works at the Mental Health Foundation, where she raises awareness of the fragile mental health and well-being of many refugee women. She stated, " I'm very interested in the whole asylum system and how that works, and I think that's what I want to do now ... But eventually I hope to have my own charity and
help everyone, not just asylum seekers", states Amal  Azzudin, a campaigner and human rights activist originally from Somalia.

               With activists such as this in countries such as Scotland, Russia and all over the world, there is still hope.

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