Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War five years ago, millions of Syrians fled Syria or were displaced within the country’s borders. Mainly neighboring countries and Europe are now faced with the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Families are trying to cross the Aegean Sea and land borders to reach safety in Europe. Some European countries are welcoming them in thousands while others are shutting their borders and building fences to keep them out. In the middle of this mess, we gathered some of questions we were frequently asked by the Westerners on the Syrian refugee crisis and their answers.
- Why don’t other Muslim countries help Syrian refugees?
Muslim countries do help refugees, in greater numbers than any country in Europe. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan combined host about 5 million Syrian refugees. Another million is distributed among Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq and other Northern African countries.
Meanwhile, under 150,000 Syrians have declared asylum in the European Union, which makes up less than 5% of all the Syrians who fled the country since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War five years ago.
We must not forget that 7 million Syrians had to abandon their homes and were internally displaced within the country.
- Why don’t the refugees stay in Turkey?
The short answer is; they do. The majority of Syrians, maybe ten times more than those who try to get to Europe, are staying in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and other neighboring countries despite the harsh conditions. Turkey alone hosts more than 2 million refugees. However, Turkey still lacks an integration program. Refugees arrive to Turkey in thousands, but they get no asylum. They are either put into camps or they move to the larger cities and live in horrible conditions. Turkey has spent nearly $8 billion since the beginning of the crisis and still continues to spend a lot of money to keep the situation under control. On the other hand, even the UN has withdrawn from several camps in Turkey due to lack of funding.
Yes, Turkey’s generosity towards refugees was beyond comparison. Turkey opened up its borders to an unlimited number of asylum seekers and still continues to accept every refugee who arrives to the safety of Turkish land. However, Turkey has no long-term plan for the millions it received from the conflict zones and does not get enough funding or any kind of help to handle this problem on its own. Turkey did not expect to have so many refugees in an elongated and with less and less hope of them returning home any time soon. The border camps are overloaded and are struggling to provide the refugees with their basic needs. Children are growing up in camps or on the streets, without proper education or speaking the language. Most families lost hope of building a life in Turkey. That is why some of them try to get to Europe, with the hope that they could give a better future to their children. If that is not a valid cause, I don’t know what is.
- Why are most of the refugees young Muslim men?
In order to reach safety in a foreign country, refugees first have to flee war or persecution. Many perish even before this first very step, most of whom are women and children. Those who can successfully flee most probably end up in refugee camps in the neighboring countries with thousands of others. The refugee camps are no hotels. Most of them lack proper protection against the weather conditions, have little food of really low standards, are locked away from the rest of the world and are no places to live and raise children for long. Once a family decides that they can no pay thousands of dollars to the traffickers for a trip some of them will definitely not survive. As a rule, it is usually women and children who fall victim to the poor travel conditions. In order to avoid the eminent risk of death AND because they have close to no resources, they will pick up a young adult male member of the family to send on to this trip, with the hope that once he gets settled there, he will be able to relocate the rest of his family.
This is the sad truth behind the young male majority of Syrian refugees. Only the strong survives and the strong takes the risk.
Another point that is often regarded with doubt is the fact that the majority of the refugees are Sunni Muslims. This is true, because if you look at the pre-war demographics of the country, you will see that 74% of the population was Sunni Muslims, 13% Shia Muslims and only 10% were Christians. This is why almost 9 out of ten Syrians you will come across in Europe will be a Muslim. No need for conspiracies there.
- Why do the refugees not want to work?
This question does not even make sense, because the Syrian refugee crisis has been growing so rapidly that the main priority now is to find shelter for all these people who arrive in Europe by thousands. The first step the refugee programs is to place those people in safety and only after that, there will be discussions about how to integrate them into the work force. Many countries are already building their own refugee work force programs, but such programs can only be initialized once the issues with main priorities, such as housing, food, healthcare, etc. are solved. Even in Turkey, a great majority of the 2.6 million Syrian refugees do not have work permits and forced to work illegally and with low pay if they can find a job at all.
It is also funny how people say that immigrants and refugees are lazy and do not want to work and they complain that they are stealing their jobs at the same time. How can someone steal your job if they do not want to work or how can they not want to work if they are stealing your jobs? Like Latin Americans or Asian-Americans in the US; immigrant workers are in fact the hardest working demographic in most countries, as they usually get paid less and have a lot at stake if they cannot get a job and provide for their family. Because of this fact, they are often taken advantage of by employers who force them to work longer hours, pay them below the minimum wage, without job security and healthcare.
- Are they really refugees or economic migrants?
The difference between a refugee and an immigrant is that refugees have to leave their homes because of outside factors, such as conflict or persecution whereas immigrants leave their land by choice. It is true that not everybody who turns out at the borders or the Aegean shores is a refugee. Not everybody is from Syria either. While Syrian refugees make up the majority of all the refugees and immigrants who seek shelter in and out of Europe, there are also people from other conflict territories as well. However, it is a humane responsibility for any country, European or not, to give a hand to those who are in need the most.
- Why do they have mobile phones, etc. if they are really in need of help?
We must remember that those people were not born as refugees. They used to have jobs, houses, phones, maybe cars, a Play Station… Once the conflict spread to their hometowns, if they were lucky enough, they picked up what they could carry and flee. If not, they just ran for their lives with nothing but the clothes they had on. If you were to leave your home and run away to a different city or a different country, would you not take your phone with you? Would you not want to be able to connect with your relatives and friends in other towns or with the people who are in this journey with you? Would you not want to be able to call for help or connect to the internet if you have the chance? In cases like that, being connected to the rest of the world and to one another is a matter of life and death. What we must question here is not it is okay for the refugees to have mobile phones or not, but the mentality that regards them as unworthy of having the basic instruments for communication.
- How do we know that they are really refugees and not undercover terrorists?
How do I know that you are an innocent reader and not a terrorist? Terror has no country or religion. When we blame the refugees for the terrorist attacks, we must remember that those are the people they were trying to get away in the first place. If we look at the Paris attack, most of the terrorists who were responsible for what happened in France are European nationals and not refugees. ISIS, al-Kaida or any other “Muslim” terrorist group do not represent muslims more than the KKK or the Crusaders represent Christianity or the Western world as a whole. Creating a stigma and discriminating against those who are most in need because of some radicals will only make the situation worse. Who are we helping if we turn down the people who run away from conflict and come at our doors if not the terrorists?
ISIS regards the refugees as traitors who turned away from the right way of Islam and sought help from the Infidels. Refugees see Europe as a safe haven where they can build a new life and give a bright future to their children. If we turn them away and ignore their suffering, we hand them to the radical groups either to be perished or worse. Shutting borders and looking the other will not fight terrorism; working for peace and landing a helping hand will. ISIS do not represent the believes of the five million Syrians who fled their country; but how Europe will handle the biggest refugee crisis since the World War II will represent the ideals Europe was built on. Europe can either choose to be yet another symbol of terror and suffering to those who are already at the bottom or it could be the beacon of hope they have been searching for all along.