World must lift its game if we are to end refugee tragedies
HUMAN desperation had a face this week.
It was that of a small child lying limp and dead in the sand. The boy, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach after the boat his family were on sank in an attempt to cross to Greece, fleeing the ravages of civil war in Syria.
Aylan though was just one of an estimated 50 million people the UNHCR now classifies as refugees, asylumseekers, or internally displaced. More than 2.5 million of those refugees have escaped fighting in Syria. The sad truth is Aylan’s story is repeated around the globe every day.
If photographers had been in the right places in recent years they would have captured similarly heartwrenching images of young children, whole families, drowning in the Indian Ocean while trying to make the perilous journey to Australia. More than 1000 people perished between 2008 and 2013.
That ugly trade has thankfully stopped. Social democrats may not like the Abbott Government’s hardline approach to ending people trafficking – and we could do more when it comes to improving conditions in our detention centres – but there is no denying the effectiveness of the policy.
The Australian model of tough love though is not a template that can be simply overlaid on a complex European crisis.
People have a right to seek sanctuary from persecution and war, and closing all borders would only exacerbate the misery.
Turkey alone is now home to more than two million refugees, most of them Syrian, and all of them desperate. Turkey cannot and should not be expected to accommodate all of this diaspora on a permanent basis.
As long as the likes of ISIS are allowed to fester, the problem will not go away, and a co-ordinated and multipronged response is needed.
In an ideal world, repatriating refugees safely to their homelands is the optimal solution, but in the case of Syria this will require first destroying the cancer that is ISIS. Sadly, only force of arms, not reason, will achieve this and here Australia is playing its part.
Secondly, to truly smash the people smugglers’ trade a clear path for international resettlement must be established.
If the millions of displaced know there exists, via proper channels, options for a new life, they are far less likely to risk their lives on the high seas, and will be more prepared to wait in properly resourced temporary shelter.
That requires international and regional co-operation, and not inconsiderable funding, something Australia is attempting in our region, and an equation the Europeans are now wrestling with.
This is a global problem, and one that won’t simply disappear if we turn our backs. We all have a responsibility for the Aylans of the world.